Look out Pittsburgh, here comes the dreaded Spotted Lanternfly (SLF). Beautiful and repugnant, this destructive invasive pest has been sighted in Allegheny County. First sighted in the US in Pennsylvania in 2014 in Berks County (and believed to have arrived sometime in 2012), SLF wreaks havoc wherever it goes. Allegheny County is one of many in the state under SLF quarantine. To learn more about the quarantine, permits, etc., please visit the PA Dept. of Agriculture’s website.
It is important to note that this insect does not bite or sting and poses no physical threat to humans.
SLF is native to parts of Asia, including India, Bangladesh, China, and Vietnam.
It is considered invasive in other parts of Asia, such as Japan and Korea. Researchers believe that it was introduced to the US via a stone shipment with SLF eggs laid on it. SLFs are really good hitchhikers and spread easily. Adults can easily hold on to a tractor trailer or train and egg masses are often well hidden out of sight and/or camouflaged. While SLF does not harm humans directly, its presence can have major repercussions.
SLF feed in swarms through sucking the sap out of plants. While their preferred food source is Ailanthus altissima, commonly known as tree of heaven, they are known to feed on a number of plants, many of which are profitable agricultural and timber crops in Pennsylvania. (Fun fact: did you know that ranks number one among the 50 United States in the production of export grade hardwood?) Plants they enjoy include, but are not limited to grape, apple, peach, black walnut, sycamore, maple, staghorn sumac, various vegetables, blueberries, and hops. SLP also releases a substance called honeydew, a sticky, sugary liquid that sticks to natural and manmade surfaces alike. Honeydew attracts stinging insects (such as yellowjackets) and leads to the growth of sooty mold. Sooty mold is damaging to plants in that it covers leaves, blocks light, and makes photosynthesis less efficient.
So, what can you do to stop the spread of SLF? First and foremost, be vigilant about checking your vehicle, landscaping materials, and landscaping for these insects. Over the winter, you can check for eggs masses, which consist of rows of small oblong grey brown eggs and a grey putty-like covering (usually) that may be smooth or cracked. They blend in very well, so be careful! Starting in April, eggs will begin hatching. The young SLF nymphs (1st-3rd instars) are small and black with white spots. They transform into 4th instar nymphs around July and will be bigger, and black and red with white spots. Adult SLF can be spotted starting in July.
If you find a SLF specimen in any stage, please do the following:
- Take a picture (with GPS activated, if possible)
- Destroy it!
- Scrape eggs into a plastic bag with alcohol or sanitizer and place inside ANOTHER bag. Or simply smash them thoroughly.
- Kill all nymphs and adults
- Report it to the Penn State Extension https://extension.psu.edu/have-you-seen-a-spotted-lanternfly