Invasive Species: Spotted Lanternfly
This invasive species is quickly making its way into Maryland as you are reading this post. [If you’re reading that sentence thinking “wait, a what? What is an invasive species?”, go back to our blog and read our previous post entitled “What is an Invasive Species Anyway?”] The insect has already distributed itself around a good portion of Pennsylvania, where it was first found in 2014, and has spread to New Jersey, New York and Virginia. As of October 28 2019, Cecil and Harford Counties in northern Maryland are under quarantine due to this species. That means that businesses and government agencies will need a permit to move certain items, including landscaping, remodeling, construction and packing waste, among others out of the county. This is due to the fact that these insects may stow themselves away in this material, or will leave their translucent egg sacs behind, leading to an expedited spread of the pest.
What makes the Spotted Lanternfly so bad, you ask? Well, this planthopper is native to China, India, Vietnam and other areas of eastern Asia but was brought to the United States on a shipment of landscaping material from Asia. To the benefit of the Spotted Lanternfly, the non-native Tree of Heaven, which is their primary host plant in Asia, is abundant around most of the United States. The presence of this tree makes it so that the Spotted Lanternflies have a reliable space to reproduce, which has resulted in a population boom of the insect within the past few years. They also do not have any natural predators in the United States, so there is not really a biological method for controlling them.
Although the Spotted Lanternflies prefer to feed and reproduce on the Tree of Heaven, they are also attracted to grape, cherry, peach, apple, pine, sugar maple and cherry trees. This is extremely detrimental because as the Lanternflies feed on these plants, they inject a piercing-sucking mouthpart into the plant like a straw. As they feed they excrete a sugary water, known as honeydew, on and around the feeding site. This results in black, sooty mold growth on the ground surrounding the plants, which damages not just the host plant, but those around it as well. The penetration of their mouthparts combined with the extraction of the beneficial sap inside weakens the plant, making them more susceptible to dying come winter. They are not just going into the woods and destroying the plants there, however. What makes them so frightening is that they are invading agricultural areas. Farmers are losing profits because the Spotted Lanternflies are feeding on their crops, either destroying them or decreasing their productivity and flavor. Vineyards in particular are at high risk because damage to one part of the plant can harm the rest of it, so highly connected grapevines face the peril of the Spotted Lanternfly.
These insects have 3 distinct life stages. Females first lay an egg sac on the bark of a tree; out of each egg sac will be about 50 babies. The second stage is called the nymph stage and within the nymph stage are substages, called instars. The first through third instar stages are black and have white spots, and the fourth is red with black and white spots. The nymphs then develop into their adult form which are large flying insects with pale-brown outer wings that are spotted black, and red under wings. Photos of each stage are shown below. If you find an egg sac on a tree, the best way to get rid of it is to scrape it with an old credit card and put the eggs in a baggie with some rubbing alcohol. Maryland residents who believe they’ve found a Spotted Lanternfly are asked to snap a picture of it, collect it in a plastic bag, freeze it and report it to the Maryland Department of Agriculture at DontBug.MD@maryland.gov.
Dead samples from any life stage can be sent to the Maryland Department of Agriculture Plant Protection and Weed Management Program at 50 Harry S. Truman Parkway, Annapolis, MD 21401. If you see a Spotted Lanternfly, act! They reproduce very quickly and are very damaging, so every individual can make a difference.
Some helpful sources: