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Spotting the Spotted Lantern Fly

Updated: Sep 28, 2022

By Robyn Graygor

Spotted Lanternfly found outside of the Student Services building (Photo by Peter Cole)

As the weather cools down, so do students’ “warm welcomes” for an invasive insect many people have grown a little too familiar with this past year—the spotted lanternfly.

There have been several sightings of an invasive bug from China, the spotted lanternfly, on campus this summer, and some can still be seen lingering on Purchase grounds as fall arrives.

Peter Cole, a visiting services and financial associate at the Neuberger Museum and self-proclaimed bug enthusiast, saw two of these bugs outside the Student Services building on Sunday.

“I first noticed one at Purchase College maybe a month or two ago,” said Cole. “I’d seen them around in my neighborhood where I live in the Bronx as well, but I didn’t hear of the explosion of information about them until maybe 8 months ago.”

Cole also expressed that fall is an essential time to combat the population growth of these insects because they lay their eggs in autumn.

“You'll stop seeing adults around November. The eggs overwinter and will hatch around April next year,” said Cole.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service advises that the eggs be removed from surfaces they’re found on and thrown out.

The white clump on the tree is a mass of spotted lanternfly eggs (Photo via Courier Post)

“Check outdoor items for spotted lanternfly egg masses, including those items you may bring indoors. Scrape any egg masses into a plastic zippered bag filled with hand sanitizer, then zip the bag shut and dispose of it properly,” wrote the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Their homepage also gives a helpful tip on where these eggs will most likely be found.

“Inspect trees (in particular, tree of heaven), bricks, stone, and other smooth surfaces for egg masses,” says their homepage.

The spotted lanternfly's tree of choice-- the tree of heaven (Photo via Ken's Garden)

Humans also have a role to play when these eggs hatch, explains Cole.

“These are a foreign presence which insectivores like birds are very hesitant to try new foods,” said Cole. “So, it’s important to keep the population in check before it can explode beyond a point where it will be completely unmanageable.”

The suggested management technique is to squash these bugs on sight.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's official government website supports this course of action.

“Kill it! Squash it, smash it...just get rid of it,” wrote the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Ben Milstein, a freshman studio production major, has had plenty of experience squishing these bugs because the populations are high where he lives in New York City.

“If you try to kill them quickly, they’ll jump, and fly away,” said Milstein. “But what I’ve found is if you position your foot above them and slowly go down, they won't move and then you can kill them.”

Milstein warns that once these pests appear, they’ll quickly become unavoidable as they did where he’s from.

“I saw the first one, and then the next week I saw two on the same day,” said Milstein. “From that day on I would see one, and then I would see two, and then it was like five, and now the day before I came here [to campus] I went out to the pier that’s right by my house, and I killed like ten.”

The spikes in their populations are due to the bugs having no natural predators in New York, explains Uri Sarig, a senior art history major, part-time naturalist, and member of the outdoors club.

“They only detract by eating everything while not having any enemies to keep their population in check,” said Sarig.

Spotted lanternfly nymph early stage (Photo by Uri Sarig)

If people don’t join the fight against this pest, ecosystems will suffer from spotted lanternflies eating away at the vegetation, explained Cole.

“You might notice the wounds that they leave in the plants that they eat. In their native area, they feed on grapes. You might notice this kind of sappy, frothy-looking substance that’s the result of them feeding,” said Cole.

Ryan Taylor, an associate professor of environmental studies, explained that there could also be economic impacts if people don’t help manage spotted lanternfly populations.

“In New York, we know that these insects will target grape vines, and so upstate we have quite a few vineyards and it’s a pretty good-sized industry in this state. You want to get rid of them, so they don’t disrupt that part of the economy,” said Taylor.

To help prevent these insects from spreading further north and catalyzing these environmental effects, it is not only important to kill the insects, but also to learn from how they arrived in America, to begin with, says Sarig.

“From what I understand they were brought to the United States in the first place in a stone shipment from eastern Asia as eggs, and when the stone arrived in the Pennsylvania area the eggs began to hatch and grow and reproduce and that is when they began to spread,” said Sarig.

Lanternflies are dispersed in their egg stage on infested materials by people themselves.

“I don’t know that they’re traveling from place-to-place long distance as adults, when you see them, they fly around but they’re not migrating, so humans are really the ones that are bringing them from one place to another because we have the means to travel long distances,” said Sarig.

Spotted lanternfly nymph late stage (Photo by Uri Sarig)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service confirms this theory.

On their site just above a banner that says, “Join the battle. Beat the bug,” they wrote, “Spotted lanternflies are invasive and can be spread long distances by people who move infested material or items containing egg masses.”

Between the egg and adult phases, there are also two nymph stages in which the spotted lanternfly will appear different.

“Nymphs are small, all black with white spots in early stages. Later instar nymphs are mostly red with some black and white spots,” said Cole.

There has also been speculation that the impacts of the spotted lanternfly are not as harmful as they were originally thought to be.

“The primary host plant that these spotted lanternflies seem to prefer is the tree of heaven, which is an invasive tree,” said Taylor. “So, I’m not sure if you have a bunch of these bugs will you start to see the tree of heaven population die back?”

The consensus is that it’s better to be safe than sorry in this situation, however, and while it may be hard to squish these bugs in the moment, it is justified.

“As much as I love bugs, and I hate hurting them, I am okay with stepping on these things," said Cole.



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