When you see a spotted lanternfly, the advice is simple: kill it.

But what’s the best chemical to kill this invasive pest?

Kenny Box looked into just that. His research and project won first place in the life science category of the North Museum Science and Engineering Fair’s junior category. He discovered several options will kill lanternflies while not killing plants.

Kenny, 13 and now an eighth grader at St. John Neumann Catholic School, was drawn to lanternflies after discovering a winning science fair project about an insect trap. However, he didn’t want to get too close to the spotted lanternflies.

“I have a fear of bugs, so it’s like, I don’t want to actually squash them ’cause I’m scared to,” he says. “So I just wanted to do it from a farther distance. To do that, I had to not harm the environment at the same time.”

Capture and kill

For his experiment, Kenny might have been one of the few people to capture lanternflies, not kill them.

He and his father, Rob, caught 30 lanternflies last fall, before temperatures dropped too low, killing the insects. They found most of them on a maple tree at their East Hempfield Township home. The Box family includes Kenny’s mom, Elaine, and siblings, Becky and Connor.

For his chemicals, Kenny selected vinegar, insecticidal soap, neem oil (an organic insecticide) and a nonorganic insecticide. He wanted to see which ones would kill the pests but not plants.

Before he started testing, Kenny hypothesized the nonorganic insecticide would kill the insects fastest but also kill surrounding plants.

He sprayed groups of spotted lanternflies with each chemical. He sprayed the same chemicals on ribbon dracaena plants over a month.

All of the chemicals killed the lanternflies.

Apple cider vinegar (7% strength) performed the best. It killed the lanternflies in the second-quickest amount of time.

“The vinegar didn’t kill the plants, and it’s the cheapest one,” he says.

Insecticidal soap killed the pests quickest.

The organic insecticide, neem oil, took the longest amount of time to kill the pests but still left the plant unharmed.

The nonorganic insecticide was the worst performer because it killed the plant as well as the lanternflies.

Kenny’s advice for attacking spotted lanternflies?

Stock up on vinegar.

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