Upon first glance the spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) appears similar to a butterfly; colorful and flashy, but don’t be fooled, this is an exotic, invasive pest which poses a serious threat to agricultural and landscape plants. The lanternfly is not a true fly but technically is a planthopper and is native to China. Spotted lanternflys feed on over 70 species of fruit trees, ornamental plants, hardwoods and vines including; apples, birch, cherry, dogwood, grapes, Korean Evodia, lilac, maple, poplar, stone fruits, and tree-of-heaven. The tree-of-heaven, Ailanthus altissima, is a particularly prefered host species for the spotted lanternfly in spite of its high concentration of cytotoxic alkaloids. They seem to choose plants with toxic metabolites for egg-laying, most likely as a defense mechanism to protect young from natural predators. Sugar content also plays a role in host choice, plants with high fructose and sucrose levels are often preyed upon.
The invasive lanternflys were recently found in the U.S., identified in Berks County, Pennsylvania. This pest poses a threat to the state’s agriculture, nursery, tree fruit and landscape industries. High-value ornamentals on private properties are also at risk. The novelty of this exotic pest means that we lack the experiential knowledge to protect landscapes from it or understand the extent of damage it can cause. Researchers from Penn State, Agricultural Extension educators and staff from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture are collaborating in hopes of containing and eradicating the spotted lanternfly before it proves its full potential. Currently, 5 townships and 2 boroughs in Berks County are under quarantine imposed by the Department of Agriculture. Movement of plant material, certain plant stock and even household items is restricted in these areas.
The spotted lanternfly adults are approximately 1 inch long and 1/2 inch wide. They have greyish wings with black spots, wing tips are outlined in black. When disturbed or in flight, hind wings are displayed which have contrasting patches of red and black partially separated by a white line. Legs and head of the lanternfly are black and their abdomens are yellow with thick, black banding.
They do not attack fruit or foliage rather they use their piercing-sucking mouthparts to feed on woody parts of plants. The feeding leaves weeping wounds on trunks and stems of trees and plants which attract other pests and provide an entrance for disease. Heavy infestations can stress plants to the point of mortality. Adult spotted lanternflies lay their egg masses on trees in the fall. Egg masses have also been found on other smooth surfaces such as stones, vehicles or outdoor furniture. Newly laid egg masses are covered with a grey, pitch-like substance, while older egg masses appear as 30 to 50 seed-like deposits in a columnar arrangement about an inch long.
Researchers at Penn State and the Agricultural department are especially concerned about the risk posed to the state’s stone fruit,grape and apple industries, which together bring in up to $180 million annually to the state. A national working group has been formed, made up of entomologists from Penn State and led by the USDA, aims to learn all that they can about the pest and its life cycle in order to develop measures to contain, control and management the pests. They have submitted a proposal for funding through the farm bill to investigate potential chemical controls as well as the development of educational materials for farmers, arborists, nursery and landscape professionals and the public.
- Early detection will be vital to control and officials ask for the public’s help in identifying possible lanterfly infestations:
- If you see eggs, scrape them off the surface and place them in a tightly sealed container with rubbing alcohol.
- If you collect an adult place the specimen in a leak-proof container with rubbing alcohol. Never take a live specimen of the spotted lanternfly from the area under quarantine.
- Complete the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Entomology Program Sample Submission Form and send the specimen to the department’s entomology lab for verification at the following address: Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Entomology Room-111, 2301 N. Cameron St., Harrisburg, PA 17110.
- For help identifying a specimen contact your arborist immediately, to report a sighting, call the toll-free Bad Bug hotline at 866-253-7189 with details of the sighting and your contact information or send email to [email protected].