Grap­pling with the spot­ted lantern­fly

Ex­perts say now is the time to kill adults, scrape in­sect eggs

The Boyertown Area Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Brandt ebrandt@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @PottstownNews on Twit­ter

You’ve seen them. You hate them. And it’s time to kill them.

We’re talk­ing of course about the plague of in­va­sive in­sects called the spot­ted lantern­fly, whose pop­u­la­tion has ex­ploded this year in south­east Penn­syl­va­nia.

First spot­ted in west­ern Berks County in 2014, au­thor­i­ties have worked to con­tain the in­va­sion of the in­sect which is na­tive to China and Viet­nam, but ap­par­ently jumped the Pa­cific on a pal­let of stone de­liv­ered to Berks County at some point in the last few years.

Since its ar­rival, it has spread from one to 13 coun­ties in South­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia and is mak­ing in­roads into Vir­ginia, Mary­land, Delaware and New Jersey.

But things could be worse, said Evan Corondi, an in­sect ex­pert with the Berks County Con­ser­va­tion District who gave a pre­sen­ta­tion on the in­vader at Pottstown Bor­ough Hall Sept. 20.

In four years, the pest has spread to only seven ad­di­tional coun­ties. But when the spot­ted lantern­fly ar­rived in Korea, it had spread across the en­tire coun­try in three years, he said.

“So I know it can seem like the ef­fort’s not worth it. But it’s work­ing. The things we’re do­ing to con­trol it are work­ing,” he said to the group of about 90 peo­ple who all ex­pressed ex­as­per­a­tion with their ef­forts to erad­i­cate the pest.

One woman — who said she is hav­ing eight tree of heaven trees in her yard taken down — said the stink from the in­sects ex­cre­ment is ter­ri­ble. “We haven’t used my back yard all sum­mer. It smells like a uri­nal.”

Tree of heaven

The lantern­fly’s fa­vorite food is the “tree of heaven,” which sci­en­tists call ailan­thus al­tissima.

It is it­self an in­va­sive species, which is very hard to kill. It is also from Asia and although the spot­ted lantern­fly prefers it, the bug is quickly de­vel­op­ing a taste for na­tive North Amer­i­can trees, in­clud­ing fruit trees, valu­able hard­woods and grapevines.

When they feed, the lantern­fly harms trees in two ways. The first is when it pierces the bark to feed on the nu­tri­ents in the layer be­neath, rob­bing the tree of nu­tri­ents as well as leav­ing “weep­ing wounds” which can at­tract bees and ants, and also pro­vides other in­sects or dis­ease ac­cess to the tree’s in­te­rior.

The sec­ond way is what the in­sect ex­cretes. Called “hon­ey­dew,” it is sweet and sticky, but it turns black into what Corondi called “sooty mold.” This smelly sub­stance coats leaves and im­pedes pho­to­syn­the­sis.

Life cy­cle

The spot­ted lantern­fly has seven stages of life, be­gin­ning with the gray egg masses. The masses which look like a mass of mud, usu­ally ver­ti­cally ori­ented on trees, rocks or even the sid­ing of your house.

The adults are cur­rently mat­ing and lay­ing those eggs. Each egg mass con­tains be­tween 30 to 50 eggs.

They can be hard to spot be­cause when fresh, they are a gray mass, usu­ally laid on an equally gray sur­face and, “as they dry out, they turn a dull gray,” said Corondi.

“Now is a per­fect time to kill the adults,” as they are just start­ing to lay eggs and fewer adults means fewer egg masses, said Corondi.

How­ever, in a few weeks, the masses will mostly be laid and ef­forts to com­bat the pest should turn to scrap­ing them off any sur­face they are found.

A credit card works best and ex­perts ad­vise hav­ing some kind of con­tainer or plas­tic bag to scrape the egg mass into. Once con­tained, rub­bing al­co­hol will kill the eggs.

An al­ter­na­tive is to crush them,” said Corondi, an ex­er­cise he ad­mit­ted he finds par­tic­u­larly sat­is­fy­ing. “They make this kind of pop­ping sound,” he said with a smile.

As the tem­per­a­ture drops, the adults get more lethar­gic and are eas­ier to kill, but the first or sec­ond frost will kill them any­way.

Eggs will hatch in spring

Sadly, the cold does not kill the eggs, which will be mostly laid by late Novem­ber and will hatch in the spring into small nymphs about the size of a tick.

They grow to about the size of a dime and take on the strik­ing red and black col­or­ing with white spots.

In this state, the lantern­fly is ac­tu­ally sus­cep­ti­ble to be­ing sprayed with soapy wa­ter as the film from the soap can keep the bugs from breath­ing through their skin. But once they grow wings, this method seems to work less well.

“I’ve killed hun­dreds of them with a plan old fly­swat­ter,” bragged one mem­ber of the au­di­ence.

Spot­ted lantern­fly do not pose a risk to hu­man health, but can af­fect for­est hard­wood prod­ucts worth $16.7 bil­lion in in Penn­syl­va­nia.

They like oak, maple and wal­nut and also af­fect ap­ple and peach trees, an in­dus­try worth more than $119 mil­lion. In par­tic­u­lar they pose a risk to Penn­syl­va­nia’s $944 mil­lion nurs­ery and land­scape in­dus­try.

How do you stop them?

Sev­eral kinds of tape, in­clud­ing duct tape with the sticky side fac­ing out, can cap­ture spot­ted lantern­fly at dif­fer­ent times of the year be­cause as it turns out, although they are called fly, “they’re not very good fly­ers,” said Corondi.

They be­long to a group of in­sects called “leaf hop­pers” and spread by climb­ing tall trees or tall build­ings and then leap into the wind to travel a long dis­tance.

Of course, they travel the long­est dis­tances by hitch­ing rides on our cars, trains and freighters.

That’s why of­fi­cials urge peo­ple to care­fully inspect their cars, trucks, trail­ers, cam­pers and even fire­wood they are trans­port­ing to make sure they are not help­ing the pest to spread to other ar­eas.

A va­ri­ety of chem­i­cal weapons can be used. Sev­eral pes­ti­cides work, pro­vid­ing you can get close enough to use them.

But one in­ge­nious strat­egy Corondi out­lined is to use one in­va­sive against the other.

Trap trees

A method called “hack and squirt” uses a type of pes­ti­cide called “sys­temics.” The lantern­fly fighter uses a down­ward stroke to cut some holes in a “tree of heaven” in­fested with lantern­fly and into these holes, ap­ply spe­cific pes­ti­cides de­signed for this func­tion.

The tree with take up the pes­ti­cide, which the lantern­fly will in­gest as it feeds on the tree.

Elim­i­nat­ing all but one or two tree of heaven in a wooded area will force the lantern­fly to fo­cus on the re­main­ing trees.

Us­ing the sys­temic method then al­lows you to poi­son many more lantern­fly with less poi­son, as well as elim­i­nat­ing more of the in­va­sive trees.

Un­for­tu­nately, be­cause the trees are go­ing dor­mant for the win­ter, this kind of as­sault must wait for spring.

In the mean­time, kill as many adults as you can and scrape and de­stroy as many egg masses as you can find.

This ar­ti­cle first ap­peared as a post in The Dig­i­tal Note­book blog.


An adult spot­ted lantern­fly on a leaf. The in­va­sive species has spread un­con­trolled through­out south­east­ern


Evan Corondi, an inspect ex­pert with the Berks County Con­ser­va­tion District, dis­plays a branch from an­other in­va­sive species, the “Tree of Heaven” be­fore his Sept. 20 pre­sen­ta­tion on the spot­ted lantern­fly.


Spot­ted lan­rter­fly pose a threat to fruit trees and vines not only be­cause of the dan­ger they pose to the plant, but also be­cause farm­ers have re­ported the fruit from trees at­tacked by the in­va­sive in­sect lack the proper amount of su­gar, ru­in­ing their har­vest. The in­sect poses a threat to Penn­syl­va­nia’s $134 mil­lion grape, peach and ap­ple in­dus­tries.


Jim Derr, chair­man of the Pottstown En­vi­ron­men­tal Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion, ex­am­ines an ex­hibit show­ing the life cy­cle of the spot­ted lantern­fly dur­ing a Sept. 20 pre­sen­ta­tion at Pottstown Bor­ough Hall.


This slide shows how credit cards can be used to scrape spot­ted lanter­fly egg masses off what­ever they are at­tached to and put into a plas­tic bag to be de­stroyed. Each mass con­tains 30 to 50 eggs.

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