Wings to Watch Out For: The Spotted Lanternfly Invasion

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These little pests have been making big waves in the news lately. Your local experts at Treemendous Tree Care want to help you understand the potential impact of these agricultural pests on you.

The Spotted Lanternfly is a type of insect called a plant hopper. It is native to China, India and Vietnam, and has also been introduced in South Korea, Japan, and more recently, the US. In Korea, where it was first detected in 2004, the Spotted Lanternfly is known to utilize more than 70 species of plant life, 25 of which also occur in Pennsylvania, for food, mating, and egg-laying. These species include cultivated grapes, fruit trees, and hardwood species. This year, major concerns have arisen regarding the Spotted Lanternfly’s potential to cause major crop damage in the US Mid-Atlantic region; the insect has already begun leaving its mark on the viticulture (grape), tree fruit, plant nursery, and timber industries.

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Identifying the Spotted Lanternfly

Adults can be seen as early as the middle of July, and they take on a much different appearance than their young. The adults have black heads and grayish wings with black spots, and the wing tips bear a combination of black rectangular blocks and grey outlines. When startled or flying, the Spotted Lanternfly will display hind wings that are red at the base and black at the tips with a white stripe dividing each wing. ­­The red portion of the wing is also adorned with black spots, although it cannot be seen when the insect is at rest. Despite having four functioning wings, the Spotted Lanternfly is known to be a poor flyer, but what it lacks in aerial skills it makes up for in jumping ability. The abdomen is bright to pale yellow with bands of black on its top and bottom surfaces.

In the fall, the Spotted Lanternfly prefers Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), another invasive species in Pennsylvania, as its primary food source, mating, and egg-laying location. But Tree of Heaven is not the only tree or surface the Spotted Lanternfly will lay eggs upon. Any smooth-trunked tree, stone, or flat, smooth surface can provide a potential host for eggs masses. Man-made items that are stored outside, such as vehicles, campers, yard furniture, and farm equipment, are also suitable sites for egg-laying.

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What’s the Risk?

Female Spotted Lanternflies begin laying eggs in masses of 30 to 50 eggs in late September or early October and continue through late November or early December. These eggs are covered in a brown, mud-like substance. Because the eggs are laid on a wide variety of surfaces, including cars and tractors, the risk for accidental transport of Spotted Lanternfly larvae to new areas is high. And the risk these insects pose goes beyond agricultural industries: some eggs may be traveling via your Christmas tree this year. To avoid an infestation of your home, be sure to check your tree thoroughly before bringing it inside.

While these agricultural pests are rapidly spreading, you can keep them at bay in the spring by taking preventative action now. Call your local tree care professionals to treat your trees with a spray and bark drench to combat these invasive insects.


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