Look out for destructive spotted lanternflies!

Photo by Rex Parker


The dreaded Spotted Lanternfly is here and active. It’s in the first instar (phase between two periods in the development of an insect) of a kind of insect known as a leafhopper which is not hopping/flying yet. All residents are urged to check their yards and gardens for the little black with white spots critter and take steps to kill them. ALL instars of this insect have piercing and sucking mouthparts and love soft wood to suck the sap of plants. It is particularly fond of fruit trees, grapevines and tree of heaven, so they are the first places to look.

The lanternfly is a clever critter, hiding down in the ground at night, coming up the plant in the morning and heading back down for the night. If they see you, they move away, avoiding contact and seeking to hide. The next instar will still be a creepy-crawly, but with red on its little body. The final instar is a big moth-like critter with red on its body. However, when it lands its wings close and one sees the red through the wings, like a lantern. Hence the name.

Why should we be concerned? The destruction to agriculture is devastating. In Pennsylvania, where this invasive insect was first discovered, the estimate is a loss of 500 jobs and $50 million in lost revenue and damage per year since its first discovery in 2014.

Photo by Rex Parker

The most effective controls come from understanding the life-cycle of the insect. Scraping and destroying egg masses is the most effective, which is in the winter.  The cocktail list for pesticides is every organic farmer’s nightmare. Be aware that insecticides do not differentiate between important insects like pollinators and the badguys like the lanternflies. If you are using pesticides, always read pesticide labels and follow the directions. The label is the law. But be aware that there are non-toxic options for the homeowner:

  • Smushing Bugs—fly swatters, tennis rackets, wiffle bats (once they are flying).  Bug zappers.  FYI—they jump well the first time, not as well the 2nd, and then they lose energy.
  • Insecticidal Soap.  Rubbing Alcohol and water with some dish soap—mist the bugs (NOT a stream), you coat them before they jump away.
  • Catch in a bottle
  • Use a shop vac
  • Bug Assault—a gun that shoots table salt at close range.  Works on flies.  Who knew!?
  • BB guns with no BBs.  Pumping them up 4-5 times, get really close to them and it blows them up.
  • Plant more milkweed!  It seems they are drawn to Common milkweed (Asclepias syraca). Which has the bonus of being good for monarch butterflies.  Because the USA is not their home, they don’t know it is poisonous to them.  However, to be sure that they don’t develop resistance, be sure to smush them if you see them on the plants!

But what is the homeowner to do with the possibility of this? Note that the majority of these insects are headed UP the tree. Adults and older nymphs will feed in groups, especially later in the season on preferred hosts. Furthermore, it has been observed that they actually go back DOWN at the end of the day. 

Sticky tape has been a very effective method of control.  They should be placed about 4 feet from the bottom of a tree and secured with pushpins. 

Be careful when discarding, as some may still be alive.  Double bag with soap and alcohol, or burn the bands.

WARNING: Sticky bands may capture other creatures, including birds and even small mammals.  Either have a plan, or contact the Wildlife Center. 

A clever Harleysville teen has come up with a very effective trap, which spares other critters. You can online to see how she constructed it.

Submitted by Nora Sirbaugh, who is a longtime Mercer County Master Gardener and is Chair of the Hopewell Township Environmental Commission

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