If you’ve noticed a spotted lanternfly on your tree branches, potted plants, deck or patio, your first instinct might be to admire this attractive red, white and black spotted insect. But beauty can be deceiving.
The truth is, this invasive Asian plant hopper feeds on more than 70 trees and plants, making it a threat not only to your landscape, but also to about $18 billion worth of Pennsylvania agricultural commodities, including grapes, hops, fruit trees and hardwood.
Although the spotted lanternfly may not directly kill your plants or trees, it will cause damage that makes them susceptible to other insects and diseases that can eventually lead to plant death.
Here’s what you need to know about this unwelcome visitor to Lancaster County and how you can keep your landscape safe:
What is the spotted lanternfly?
The spotted lanternfly is a native of China, Taiwan and Vietnam and is believed to have made its way here in a shipment from one of those countries. The first North American spotting of the insect was in 2014 in Berks County. Since then, 14 southeast and central Pennsylvania counties, including Lancaster, have been quarantined to help prevent the spread of the insect.
How does the spotted lanternfly inflict its damage?
Spotted lanternflies feed on the sap of plants, using their piercing-sucking mouth parts like a straw to tap into a plant. In doing so, they not only cause wilting, leaf curling and tree dieback, but they also secrete a sugary substance called “honeydew” that encourages the growth of a black sooty mold that can further damage the plant. The insect feeds in such high numbers, creating so much honeydew, that researchers often have to wear raincoats to keep dry.
How do I know if the spotted lanternfly has invaded my property?
Spotted lanternfly eggs hatch from May to June and go through four easily recognizable nymph stages, known as instars. In the first three stages, the nymphs are black and wingless with white spots. In the fourth instar, the insect turns red with white spots and black markings. Inch-long adults with black bodies and colorful wings can be spotted as early as July and will lay eggs in the fall.
How can I get rid of the spotted lanternfly?
The spotted lanternfly has few natural predators in North America, although two native fungi have shown promise in controlling the adult population. Although we currently cannot stop the lanternfly, there are things homeowners can do to slow the spread of the pest and protect their landscape:
Respect the quarantine: When traveling in and out of the quarantine zone, be aware of your surroundings. Do not park or leave equipment under infested trees. Depending on the time of year, thoroughly check your car, outdoor furniture, and equipment like mowers for egg masses or nymphs, and avoid moving firewood.
Remove the host: The spotted lanternfly will complete its lifecycle on a variety of plants, but it prefers Ailanthus altissima, or “tree of heaven,” for feeding and reproduction. Identifying this non-native, fast-growing, invasive tree on your property is an important step in managing the spotted lanternfly. Simply cutting it down rarely solves the problem. Consider consulting a landscape professional who can help you remove the plant for good.
Eliminate egg masses: In a few short weeks, adult spotted lanternflies will begin laying eggs on a variety of surfaces, including tree trunks, other plants, patios and stones. Each egg mass contains about 30-50 eggs and resembles gray putty. If you find an egg mass, scrape it into a bag or container with a putty knife and fill with isopropyl alcohol or hand sanitizer.
Trap the nymphs: In the spring and summer, wrap a band of sticky tape or reversed duct tape around tree trunks where you’ve spotted the lanternfly nymphs. The nymphs will get stuck on the trap and never further their development. To avoid small birds or mammals getting stuck to the tape, reduce its width or consider caging it in wire.
Consider a treatment plan: Insecticides can be used to combat the spotted lanternfly, but they should only be used on plants in your landscape that are most at risk or part of your outdoor living. Insecticides currently in use do not specifically target the spotted lanternfly and may also harm beneficial insects. Before contracting with a professional to treat your trees, make sure they’ve done their research before formulating their treatment plan, and make sure you understand the how and why of the treatment they are recommending.
The experts at Tomlinson Bomberger have formulated a spotted lanternfly treatment plan designed to give you the best, season-long control possible in the most environmentally responsible way possible. If you have questions about spotted lanternfly management or any other lawn, landscape or pest-control needs, contact us at tomlinsonbomberger.com or 717-340-9220 to schedule a free consultation.