The Spotted Lanternfly is an invasive insect native to parts of Asia and was discovered in Berks County Pennsylvania in 2014. Since it was first discovered it has been moving into our backyards and is invading our community’s landscape. Although adults are easy to identify, it can be difficult to spot this invasive pest early in its life cycle. Spotted Lanternfly nymphs go through four stages. Stages 1-3, the nymphs are small in size and are black with white spots. At stage 4, the nymphs begin to turn red with white spots. In late July, Spotted Lanternflies turn into adults with large spotted wings. You can’t miss the bright red color on their backs when they open their wings to fly. In late September a Spotted Lanternfly will lay its eggs on tree bark, stone, bricks, cars, trailers or any smooth service. Their egg masses look almost like a putty or paste and can be difficult to identify. Females can lay 30- 50 eggs up to 3 times a year and will continue to feed until the first severe frost kills them. Eggs will survive over winter and hatch in the spring and the cycle will begin again.
Spotted Lanternflies do not chew or bite. They have a straw like mouth that they use to feed and suck sap out of trees and plants. When these insects feed on sap they excrete honey dew that collects on surfaces underneath the tree or plant it is feeding on. Honey dew is sugary and sweet and attracts other insects like bees and wasps. This creates a hazard for children or adults with serious allergies to stinging insects. Some trees with heavy infestations can appear to be “raining” because so much honey dew is falling from the trees canopy. As the honey dew collects on everything beneath the tree it will develop a fungus called “sooty mold”. Sooty mold becomes black, it can be an eyesore on your property, can have a foul odor, and can be difficult to remove from cars, siding, patio furniture, decks, and driveways. If heavy accumulations develop on the leaves this could result in reducing photosynthesis (how a plant uses energy from light to turn water and CO2 into glucose and oxygen) and severely stress the tree.
Unfortunately honey dew, sooty mold, and stinging insects are not the only concern when it comes to this invasive pest. If not controlled the Spotted Lanternfly could potentially wreak havoc on the trees in our landscape. The preferred host for this invasive pest is the Ailanthus tree or “Tree of Heaven” which is an invasive tree species from Asia. The second choice for the Spotted Lanternfly is a wide variety of species we commonly see in our landscapes today including apple, maple, willow, walnut, poplars, birch and grapes. Repeated attacks on susceptible trees could stress the tree and weaken its ability to fight off other insects or disease causing severe damage. Also, it is important to understand that insects that feed on trees are known to be vectors and spread pathogens from one tree to the next. We have seen this with Dutch Elm disease and the Elm Bark Beetle that has devastated our Elm Tree population. The Spotted Lanternfly kills its preferred host, the Ailanthus tree, in 2-4 years after its first initial attack.
The Spotted Lanternfly has no natural predators in Pennsylvania at this time and if not controlled or eliminated we anticipate the loss of several trees in our communities and maybe even in your own backyard. A dramatic impact to crops and plants such as grapes is also anticipated. The PA Department of Agriculture has labeled Spotted Lanternfly as a “public nuisance.” This means that homeowners in the quarantine areas are now required to control or eliminate spotted lanternfly on their plants. PDA LAW Link. Click here to determine if you are within the quarantine zone.