Get Out, Darned Spot!

Some of you may have heard about New York’s newest worst pest: The Spotted Lanternfly. This little critter is ransacking our crops, destroying property, annoying park visitors, and generally making everything sticky and gross.

An artistic image of an adult Spotted Lanternfly (SLF) is the top of this article. We are asking for volunteers like you to look for and report any SLF and its favorite Tree-of-Heaven (TOH) plant using the invasive species tracking software iMap either online or on the mobile app.

What is the Spotted Lanternfly (SLF)?

The Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula), is an invasive species from parts of China, India, Vietnam and Taiwan, which feeds on more than 70 different plants (especially the invasive Tree-of-Heaven).

The invasive Tree-of-Heaven, a favorite of the Spotted Lanternfly, is present in much of New York State (Photo Credit – New York State Floral Atlas, National Forest Service)
The leaves and flowers of the Tree-of-Heaven (Photo credit – University of Georgia/Bugwood.org)

As an unintended consequence of global trade, the insect  likely reached North America due to inadvertently hitching a ride in cargo shipping containers in the Far East. First reported in Pennsylvania in 2014, SLF has spread to neighboring states when people accidentally move stowaway egg masses to new locations.

Such international shipping has helped spread many invasives species, and national governments have been slow to recognize and address the issue.

Why do we need to “Stop the Spot?”

According to a Penn State study at the College of Agricultural Science, if not contained, damage caused by SLF is estimated to cost “at least $324 million annually and cause the loss of about 2,800 jobs” in Pennsylvania alone.

Spotted Lanternflies feed upon fruit trees, grapevines and hops (which hurts fruit, wine and beer production, an important and growing industry in the Finger Lakes and other areas of New York State), and our beautiful hardwood trees. At the same time, they secrete a sticky honeydew which creates a sooty mold that damages property.

The honeydew and mold also attract stinging insects such as wasps and bees, creating an overall unpleasant atmosphere. No one wants to do outdoor activities when everything is covered in sugary bug poop.

A representation of the Spotted Lanternfly during its lifecycle. A winged adult SLF is center. The insect as it appears with black and white markings after hatching during May and June is to the right. As the insect matures, it changes from black to mainly red, usually during July through September, as shown to the left. It assumes it adult, winged form in late summer, and lays its eggs in the fall, starting the cycle again. (Artwork by Juliet Linzmeier, Student Conservation Association member, Invasive Species Unit, NYS Parks)

            Where is it?

It could be right by you this year! Here is our most up-to-date map of known SLF infestations. Your reports of sightings could change the way this map looks!

On this map, currently infested counties are highlighted blue, while isolated sightings are represented by a red dot. Note that Ithaca County, in the heart of Finger Lakes wine country, is currently listed as infested. However, since infestation in New York State is not yet widespread, there is still time for us all to take important and effective action to mitigate the spread of SPF.

How do we “Stop the Spot?”

Remember these three steps: Report. Inspect. Destroy.

  • REPORT sightings of SLF
    • Download the iMapInvasives Mobile app or go online. You’ll be adding directly into our database.
    • Be sure to take pictures at any life stage (egg masses, larvae, adult insect or groups of infestations) with an item like a ruler or coin for scale.
    • Include the location: address or GPS coordinates (simply enable your location tracking when using the iMap app).
    • Adopt a square!: Consider signing up for a grid square near you to keep us regularly updated about special high-priority locations. 
    • Prefer E-mail? Send your info to SpottedLanternfly@agriculture.ny.gov
    • Eggs are laid on hard surfaces and may be covered or uncovered.
  • INSPECT your gear for stowaways and egg masses
    • Check your car, equipment, and materials when coming from infested areas (certain counties in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland).
    • Egg masses can sometimes resemble mud, and these hitchhikers will hide in your car’s bumper, hood, etc.
  • DESTROY 
    • For every single SLF you kill, you prevent potentially hundreds of plant-sucking critters from draining our economy next year.
    • Look for the different stages throughout the year. Right now in May, focus your search for the nymphs: The first instar nymph is approximately ¼” long and black with white spots, and occasionally mistaken for a tick. Second and third instar nymphs are also black with white spots, but the fourth instar nymph takes on a red coloration with white spots and can be up to ¾”. Fourth instar nymphs molt and become adults approximately 1 inch in length.
    • If egg masses are found, scrap off and destroy them by putting them into doubled bags with alcohol/hand sanitizer, or by smashing/burning them. Honestly, get as dramatic as you want.
The lifecycle of the Spotted Lanternfly, which should be hatching out from its overwintering eggs during May and June. (Photo Credit – Cornell University/NY Integrated Pest Management)

How we manage SLF

While preventative measures are always best, the sooner a new infestation is found, the better chance we have of managing the situation. Our Park’s staff use a combination of strategies to manage SLF, some of which get quite creative…

  • Sticky bands and circle traps on trees will catch some nymphs and adults but are mostly useful for helping us monitor SLF whereabouts.
  • Bio-controls (predators, parasitoids, and insect-killing fungus) are in the works to help control SLF long-term but aren’t happening yet.
  • We’ll also create “trap trees” where we’ll cut most of the invasive Tree of Heaven, then inject a pesticide into the remaining tree. This kills any SLF that take a drink (like how flea treatments on your dog will kill any flea that takes a bite!).
  • Scraping egg masses and destroying them reduces next year’s population.
  • Be aware of look-alikes as seen in this poster

Even with these strategies, we need all the help we can get to stop these spots! Help us by killing SLF at all life stages.

Destroy their egg masses!

Stomp black/red nymphs!

Squish the flying adults!

And then tell us about it when you do.

There’s even a new app specifically for squishing SLF called Squishr which aims to make the hunt into a fun competition for the whole family (especially kids)!

Researchers need as much time as possible to investigate the best possible methods for managing SLF before they damage our resources even worse, so reporting new infestations makes a huge difference!

Through a collective effort of reporting, destroying, and inspecting for stowaways, we can combat the spread of the Spotted Lanternfly. 

For more information, go to Spotted Lanternfly – NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation


Cover shot – An adult Spotted Lanternfly. Artwork by Juliet Linzmeier.

Post by Juliet Linzmeier, Student Conservation Association member, Invasive Species Unit, NYS Parks

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