April Quarantine Activity: Removing Spotted Lanternfly Eggs Before They Hatch
April showers bring…the Spotted Lanternfly? Unfortunately, yes. The arrival of warmer, Spring weather also means the arrival of Spotted Lanternfly as late April marks the beginning of the species’ egg hatching season.
Originally from China, India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam, the Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) was first found in the United States in 2014 in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Since this discovery, the species has been rapidly spreading, and with no natural enemies in these areas, it has potential to cause tremendous physical and economic damage throughout the United States.
Known for their tendency to feed in groups of thousands or more, the Spotted Lanternfly can cause serious damage to trees for many reasons. The sheer number of Spotted Lanternflies that feed on a tree at one time is staggering and can cause an abnormal amount of oozing sap, wilting leaves, and tree dieback. The Spotted Lanternfly is an inefficient metabolizer, so it needs to ingest a high amount of tree sap in order to get all the nutrients needed to grow; and as we know, with a high amount of food, comes a large amount of waste, or in the Spotted Lanternfly’s case, honeydew. Honeydew is a gooey, sugary substance that adults excrete while feeding. This honeydew encourages the growth of black sooty mold that is harmless to people, but it can kill plants and the volume each insect excretes is problematic. With thousands of honeydew-excreting insects on one tree at a time, some have described the phenomena as a “honeydew rain” falling down from trees.
Not only can the Spotted Lanternfly damage trees in our backyards, the species also poses a huge threat to the agricultural industry. The Spotted Lanternfly likes to feed on plants with a high sugar content; grape vines, fruit trees, hops, and pine trees to name a few. Because of this, the species could severely impact the wine, craft beer, tree-fruit, hardwood, and nursery industries, which in Pennsylvania alone are worth $18 billion to the state’s economy. However, the Spotted Lanternfly also feeds on another invasive species: the rapidly growing Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima). This tree species looks a lot like Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), commonly found along highways, grows seeds that are easily dispersed by the wind, and has an extensive root system and resprouting ability, making it extremely difficult to control. The fact that the Spotted Lanternfly loves feeding on this invader is just another reason to remove Tree of Heaven from our forests.
Although adult Spotted Lanternflies may only feed on certain types of plants, they are not picky when it comes to finding a location to lay their eggs. The species will lay their eggs on almost any smooth, vertical surface like smooth-barked trees, vehicles, and other man-made surfaces. Adults lay grayish-brown egg sacs throughout late September until early winter, containing anywhere from 30 to 50 waxy brown, seed-like eggs. Normally egg sacs and larvae cannot survive cold Northeastern winters, however, this past winter was fairly mild, so many will have survived. Eggs hatch from late April to May and emerge as tiny, black insects with white spots. Over the spring and summer months they develop into adults, with the addition of red coloration and eventually wings. Adults have very distinct coloration and patterns on their wings of contrasting red, gray, and brown with black spots.
To help stop the spread of this invader, consider using your time at home during the COVID-19 crisis to search your outdoor spaces near you for egg masses before they hatch. You can find egg sacs on any smooth, vertical surface as mentioned previously. Some other examples of where to find egg masses are rocks, cars, trailers, campers, and outdoor furniture.
To remove and kill them, scrape the egg masses off the host surface, applying a good amount of pressure to ‘pop’ the eggs. Then soak the eggs in alcohol or hand sanitizer to ensure they are no longer viable, and throw them away. See a Penn State Extension expert demonstrate this process here.
Removing these egg masses before they hatch and grow into adults, is crucial to stopping the species from spreading and destroying plants and many agricultural industries in its path throughout the Mid-Atlantic, and eventually across many temperate regions in the United States.
- Do you own a business that moves materials in and out of quarantined counties? Penn State Extension has online resources to help determine if your business needs a Spotted Lanternfly permit and free webinars on how to acuire one.
- The Northeast Integrated Pest Management Center has a list of who to call in your area to report a Spotted Lanternfly sighting as well as each state’s regulations on controlling the invader.
- For more general information on the Spotted Lanternfly, visit your state’s Department of Agriculture Spotted Lanternfly page: