Tea tree oil can keep mosquitoes, lice and other insects away.

Can it work to keep spotted lanternflies back?

Annie Galen looked into that big question. Her research on using essential oils as a deterrent won third place in the plant sciences category of the North Museum Science and Engineering Fair’s senior category.

Spotted lanternflies are so common around Ephrata High School, that the field hockey scavenger hunt asked the team to find one and squash it, says Annie, now a senior and a field hockey player.

“I thought it would be interesting if I could do some research on it to find out if there was any natural deterrent,” she says.

Annie, 17, evaluated tea tree oil, with its insect-repelling properties, and lavender oil, which has antimicrobial benefits. She also picked these two oils because they’re easy for people to find.

Before her research started, she expected the tea tree oil would keep lanternflies away because of its use as an insect repellent.

For her research, Annie looked beyond her Clay Township home for host trees of spotted lanternfly. (She lives with parents Donya and Scott, the high school principal, while older sister Hannah is in college.)

Annie found six maple trees and wrapped them with tape. Every two days, she sprayed the bark of two trees with lavender oil, two trees with tea tree oil and two trees with water as control trees. Weekly, she removed the tape and counted the lanternflies.

After adjusting for the circumference of the trees, she had her results on whether the oils kept lanternflies away.

“In the end, they didn’t have much of an effect as a deterrent, actually, so it is kind of sad,” she says.

Lavender oil attracted more lanternflies than the trees without oil.

“It didn’t prove my hypothesis at all, but it’s actually insightful because I thought you could use lavender oil as an attractant around the outskirts of your property to try to get them away from your trees,” Annie says.

Or it could help direct lanternflies to traps, she adds.

This research has made Annie more aware of spotted lanternflies.

“They really could be a big issue and we need to do something to help stop them,” she says.

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