So there I was, minding my own business on the Hoboken waterfront. From the corner of my eye, I catch a gray mass, fluttering toward my friend’s ankle. “Don’t move,” I warn them—this particular friend is deathly afraid of anything small that crawls and/or flies. As I move to launch the bug off their ankle with a flick, I see a set of slate gray wings dotted with black spots covering a ruby red anthrax. It’s a spotted lanternfly. In a swift motion, a swat of my hand and a stomp of my shoe spells the end of the lanternfly.
The spotted lanternfly—also known as Lycorma delicatula—is an insect native to Eastern Asia that has since migrated to the Eastern United States. To the uninformed, this is an interesting and colorful new addition to the tri-state area’s ecology. But to biologists, it’s a nightmare. Since the beginning of the decade, the spotted lanternfly has spread invasively to the East Coast, threatening the agricultural output of the United States. In an effort to reduce the lanternfly’s population, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture lists one key way residents can help stop the spread: kill them.
The Spotted Lanternfly Invasion
The lanternfly is an inch-long flying and hopping insect native to India, China, and Vietnam, where it feeds on the sap of its preferred host plant, Chinese sumac. Here, the lanternfly’s population was kept in check by natural predators within the local ecosystem. L. delicatula is an invasive species—an organism that is not indigenous to a particular location—and was accidentally introduced to South Korea in 2004. Ten years later, the lanternfly was first seen in Berks County, Pennsylvania. In 2018, its presence was confirmed in New Jersey.
The spotted lanternfly’s food of choice is over 70 types of woody plants, like trees, and nonwoody plants, like herbaceous perennials. Lanternflies suck the sap out of these plants and produce a sticky fluid as waste called honey dew. Honey dew covers the leaves of the plant, which causes mold growth that can kill it.
Given this behavior, ecologists are growing concerned with L. delicatula’s increasing presence in the Eastern United States. Researchers believe the lanternfly could have a detrimental effect on the area’s agricultural output, with Pennsylvania State University estimating damages totaling $554 million if the pest is left untreated. It’s also been suggested that the lanternfly could continue expanding throughout the Eastern United States, as well as the Pacific Coast. Here, hop and wine grape farms could fall prey to the insect.
What To Do
The quickest and easiest way to curb the spread of the spotted lanternfly is to kill it. Residents should also report any sightings of the insect to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. Lanternflies lay light gray egg masses in October through May. They can be scraped off surfaces or killed using pesticide, hand sanitizer, or rubbing alcohol.
Have you seen the spotted lanternfly in New Jersey? Let us know in the comments.
Featured image courtesy of Magi Kern