East Falls Local Article: The Scourge of the Spotted Lantern Fly

Last summer, I met a good friend for one of our usual ‘walk and talks’ and we decided to meet at McMichael Park and to walk through the neighborhood down to the river. Along the way, we encountered homeowners in their yards whacking the daylights out of Spotted Lanternflies (SLF).  When we got to the river, after visiting a local establishment for a to-go fried chicken dinner (we were in the middle of the pandemic), we encountered other folks diligently squishing SLFs along Kelly Drive. 

I was beyond impressed with the diligence of the efforts and those efforts must continue as this scourge is still with us.
A little background: the SLF is an invasive planthopper native to China, India, and Vietnam. The first detection of this non-native species to the United States was discovered in Pennsylvania in Berks County (aren’t we lucky) in September of 2014. It has since spread to 34 other counties in the Commonwealth.

A few quick facts about these pests:

SLFs are destructive invasive pests threatening agricultural and ornamental plants.

The SLF has also been found in 10 other states in the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions.

The SLF does not bite or sting.

The SLF does not kill all trees it feeds on. SLF is a plant stressor that, along with other stressors, can cause significant damage to its host.

This insect has the potential to greatly impact agricultural crops such as grapes, hops, and hardwoods, a potential loss of billions of dollars.  

SLFs are also reducing the quality of life for people living in heavily infested areas due to the sheer number of these pests and the mess that they leave behind. 

The SLF causes serious damage in trees including oozing sap, wilting, leaf curling, and tree dieback. In addition to tree damage, when the SLFs feed, they excrete a sugary substance, called honeydew, that encourages the growth of black, sooty mold. 

This mold is harmless to people; however, it causes damage to plants. In counties infested and quarantined for the SLF, residents report hundreds of these bad bugs that affect their quality of life and ability to enjoy the outdoors during the spring and summer months. 

The SLF will cover trees, swarm in the air, and their honeydew can coat decks and play equipment.

When the SLF is in the nymph stage (April to October) they have black bodies and legs and are covered in bright white spots. They are wingless and are about ½ inch in size. As they develop into the adult stage, (July to November) the SLF at rest has grayish wings with black spots, and when flying or startled, they display vibrant red hind wings. They will grow to approximately one inch long and can jump several feet when startled.   

Given their abundance in the area and their unusual markings, they are not difficult to spot. Keeping your eyes peeled and your willingness to stomp them is appreciated. 

Egg laying begins in late September and continues through late November or early December and can occur on manmade surfaces in addition to plants.

In the fall, these bugs will lay egg masses with 30-50 eggs each. These are called bad bugs for a reason so, thank you for helping to do your part and rid our community of these colorful but destructive pests.

The PA Department of Agriculture (PDA) and the Penn State Extension Service are both valuable resources for dealing with this scourge. Additional information can be found at the following links: agriculture.pa.gov/spottedlanternfly and at extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly.

I am particularly intrigued by the use of the relatively new ‘circle trap’ demonstrated online on the PDA site.

The circle trap can eliminate large numbers of destructive SLFs without harming beneficial pollinators or small animals. These traps are inexpensive to buy, and easy to make with items you may have around the house.

SLFs are here, and we know what a nuisance they present. 

Efforts continue to contain and eradicate this scourge (I have used this word repeatedly, so you have no doubt how I feel).

Since 2015, the PDA has received more than $34 million to combat the SLF in Pennsylvania, including $20 million in federal funds and another $14 million in state investment. The department also awarded more than $260,000 in January for four priority research projects.

As always, please reach out with your thoughts and ideas on state policy at RepDeLissio@pahouse.net or at 215-482-8726.