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Invasive Species Spotlight – Spotted Lantern Fly

What is the spotted lanternfly?

The spotted lanternfly (SLF) is an invasive pest from Asia that primarily feeds on tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) but can also feed on a wide variety of plants such as grapevine, hops, maple, walnut, fruit trees and others. This insect could impact New York’s forests as well as the state’s agricultural and tourism industries.

Identification

Nymphs are black with white spots and turn red before transitioning into adults. They can be seen as early as April. Adults begin to appear in July and are approximately 1 inch long and ½ inch wide at rest, with eyecatching wings. Their forewings are grayish with black spots. The lower portions of their hindwings are red with black spots, and the upper portions are dark with a white stripe. In the fall, adults lay 1-inch-long egg masses on nearly anything from tree trunks and rocks to vehicles and firewood. They are smooth and brownish-gray with a shiny, waxy coating when first laid.

Where are they located?

SLF were first discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014 and have since been found in New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia. As of spring 2018, New York has no infestations, though it’s possible they are present in low numbers and have not been detected yet. Given the proximity of the Pennsylvania infestation, it is expected to be found in New York eventually.

Hatched eggs
Hatched spotted lantern fly eggs, photo by Kenneth R. Law, Bugwood.org

What is the risk to NYS?

SLF pose a significant threat to New York’s agricultural and forest health. Adults and nymphs use their sucking mouthparts to feed on the sap of more than 70 plant species. Feeding by sometimes-thousands of SLF stresses plants, making them vulnerable to disease and attacks from other insects. SLF also excrete large amounts of sticky “honeydew,” which attracts sooty molds that interfere with plant photosynthesis, negatively affecting the growth and fruit yield of plants. New York’s annual yield of apples and grapes, with a combined value of $358.4 million, could be impacted if SLF enters New York. The full extent of economic damage this insect could cause is unknown at this time. Although native insects also secrete honeydew, the size of SLF and the large populations that congregate in an area result in large accumulations of it. The sticky mess and the swarms of insects it attracts can significantly hinder outdoor activities. In Pennsylvania, where SLF populations are the densest, people can’t be outside without getting honeydew on their hair, clothes, and other belongings.

Adults
A cluster of adult spotted lantern flies, photo by Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org

How do they spread to new areas?

While SLF can jump and fly short distances, they spread primarily through human activity. They often hitch rides to new areas when they lay their eggs on vehicles, firewood, outdoor furniture, stones, etc. and are inadvertently transported long distances.

Fungal Mat at base of tree
Fungal mat at the base of a tree that is infested with spotted lantern flies, photo by Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org

What are the signs of an infestation?

  • Sap oozing or weeping from tiny open wounds on tree trunks, which appears wet and may give off fermented odors.
  • One-inch-long egg masses that are brownish-gray, waxy and mudlike when new. Old egg masses are brown and scaly.
  • Massive honeydew build-up under plants, sometimes with black sooty mold.

What is being done?

NY Dept. of Conservation, DEC, is working with the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets and the US Department of Agriculture to address SLF. Since it is less expensive and easier to deal with a pest before it becomes widespread, the goal is to find SLF early or prevent it from entering NY altogether. A plan has been developed that describes how the agencies will prevent and detect SLF in New York. Extensive trapping surveys will be conducted in high risk areas throughout the state as well as inspections of nursery stock, stone shipments, commercial transports, etc. from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. DEC and partner organizations encourage everyone to be on the lookout for this pest. State Parks and others are also mapping locations of tree of heaven, an invasive tree that is a known host of SLF to target places to look for SLF. Where feasible, reducing populations of tree of heaven may also be beneficial.

What can I do?

  • Learn how to identify SLF.
  • Inspect outdoor items such as firewood, vehicles, and furniture for egg masses.
  • If you visit states with SLF, be sure to check all equipment and gear before leaving. Scrape off any egg masses. Visit agriculture.pa.gov for more information on SLF in PA.
  • Learn about invasive species during New York Invasive Species Awareness Week.

If you believe you have found SLF in New York…

  • Take pictures of the insect, egg masses and/or infestation signs as described above (include something for scale such as a coin or ruler)
  • Note the location (address, intersecting roads, landmarks or GPS coordinates)
  • Email the information to DEC at spottedlanternfly@dec.ny.gov
  • Report the infestation to iMapInvasives

 

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