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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.

A large group of adult Spotted Lanternflies feeding on a tree. Clusters of Spotted Lanternflies like this are common and can be very harmful to the plants they feed on. (Photo credit: Emelie Swackhamer)

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.

This image depicts the four life stages of the Spotted Lanternfly from egg to adult. Visit Penn State Extension for more photos to help you identify the species. (Photo credit: Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture)

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.

Freshly laid egg masses can be found on almost any smooth, vertical surface and are about 1” long. When fresh, masses look like a white, putty-like substance. Over time, the egg masses dry out and look more like cracked mud. (Top left photo from Penn State Extension, next two photos by Emelie Swackhamer).

 

Map depicting where the Spotted Lanternfly has been found in the Mid-Atlantic region. Some areas have been invaded so heavily that they’ve been quarantined, restricting the movement of certain materials in hopes of slowing the spread of this invasive pest. (Photo: New York State Integrated Pest Management Program)

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.

 

 

 

 

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Jenna Mackley Community Engagement Manager, Pennsylvania Office

Jenna is the Community Engagement Manager in our Pennsylvania office. She manages a variety of program functions such as event planning, volunteer coordination, social media, and more.

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