Infestation of spotted lanternflies hits Philly

Paul Kurtz
September 12, 2019 - 4:00 am
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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Hordes of spotted lanternflies have invaded Philadelphia, and city officials are trying to figure out how to get rid of the destructive bugs.   

Huge masses of the bugs seemed to blow in all at once this week, and all over the city, the squashed remains of colorful spotted lanternflies can be seen.

"They just been popping all over the place. They've been on the walls, they're all over the ground, everywhere," said Shane Lightly, who has seen the the lanterflies around the city. 

He adds these bugs that feed on trees and plants seem to be confused in the concrete jungle of Center City. 

"I live right next to the woods in Wissahickon and I see them on tree branches crawling around and I've stomped a few of them," said Ben Schanberg, who's been swatting at them in Roxborough. 

Spotted lanternflies don't pose a threat to humans, but they can do major damage to parks. 

City Managing Director Brian Abernathy says he's been dreading their arrival.

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"We started talking about this about six months to a year. And that's when Parks and Rec was investigating this, so this is something the city has known is coming. But it's something that I don't think anyone has a solution today," Abernathy said. 

Until a solution is found, experts like Academy of Natural Sciences entomologist Isa Betancourt suggest we deal with lanternflies the old fashion way. 

"Don't feel bad squishing them," she suggested.  

Lanternflies came from Asia and have no natural enemies here so they're able to feast unchallenged on trees and plants, she explained. 

"You can think of them as little plant vampires 'cause they're sucking the life forces of the plants," she added. 

Parks and Recreation operations manager Tom Witmer says he hasn't seen any damage yet, but he thinks Fairmount Park could be in for some rough times.

"Stay tuned. I think the problem is going to get worse before it gets better," he said. "I think next year we're going to see even more of it."

The USDA and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture are leading the search for a permanent solution to the lanternfly.