As irksome spotted lanternfly spreads, Pa. prepares for battle

Pa. Agriculture Department website has information on how to deal with the bug.

Jim Melwert
October 03, 2018 - 1:24 pm
Spotted lantern fly

Courtesy of Delaware Valley University

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At first glance, they’re kind of neat looking, but in some parts of the Delaware Valley the invasive spotted lanternfly has become quite a nuisance. 

The spotted lanternfly is native to Asia. It first surfaced in Pennsylvania in Berks County in 2014. Since then it’s been found in every county in southeastern Pa., as far north as Monroe County and west to Lancaster. 

However, now in parts of Bucks and Montgomery counties, Delaware Valley University biology professor Chris Tipping says, "I have seen concentrations of thousands of them on a single tree."

Tipping says one of the challenges in containing the lanternfly is its willingness to lay eggs on pretty much anything.

"They’ll lay their eggs on a vehicle, and that vehicle could drive hundreds of miles," he said. "Or on a train."

Those egg masses look like they're covered with a gray mud or a chewing gum.

Tipping says since the spotted lanternfly has no real predators, yet. One reason is bright red under-wings that they flash when they’re threatened.

"That’s called warning coloration or aposematic coloration," he said. "And that means, generally, 'Don’t eat me' or 'I’m poisonous 'or 'I’ll sting you or something unpleasant will happen."

Tipping says so far there is no indication the spotted lanternfly is poisonous. It doesn’t bite or sting or cause structural damage to homes or proterty. But Tipping says it is an issue for some crops, including grapes, apples and hops.

But he says it’s not the first invasive, non-native insect to come through, and it probably won’t be the last. As they continue to research how to stop or slow the spread, Tipping thinks back to gypsy moths, which devastated oak trees when they passed through in the '80s. He says it was micro-organisms that ended up controlling those populations.

He recommends a visit to the Pennsylvania Agriculture Department website or the Penn State extension website for information about how best to deal with the spotted lanternfly. 

The site says that the best first step is removing the lanternfly’s favorite food source: the Tree of Heaven, also known as Chinese sumac. And it cautions that home remedies like dish soap or pepper sprays have not been proven effective and could be dangerous to humans, pets or the plant. It also says there is no evidence another rumored remedy, milkweed, has any effect on the lanternfly.

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Listren to the complete interview with Delaware Valley University biology professor Chris Tipping.