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Insect of the Month : Spotted Lanternfly

I have really enjoyed writing these articles and also enjoyed the many positive responses I’ve received. I try to rotate the topics I write about between beekeeping, horticulture and agriculture. Something new I would like to add to the mix is an “Insect of the Month” article. Its easy to write about things you enjoy and one thing I love to teach and talk about is entomology. So, going forward I will do my best to incorporate this article and cover interesting insects. I’ll start the new series with the spotted lanternfly!

                The spotted lanternfly is a multicolored, true insect (Hemipteran) in the family fulgoridae. It is native to China, India and Vietnam. In its native range the lanternfly completes its lifecycle on a tree know as the “Tree of Heaven”. The adults lay their eggs in September on the leaves and the nymphs hatch around the end of April the following year. Egg clusters were believed to have died at 5® Fahrenheit, but since populations have survived the harsh northeast winters, this is now in question. The lanternfly has special mouthparts that allow it to pierce leaves and stems of the tree and feed on the sap.

                It is believed that the spotted lanternfly came to America as egg clusters, attached to a shipping container from Asia. The initial identification occurred in Pennsylvania in 2014, near Philadelphia. They can be transported by wood or logs being carried from state to state, therefor increasing their range. Although younger individuals can survive on a wide range host plants, it’s unclear if that is true for the adults, as they are rarely found away from “Tree of Heaven” host. So far Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, West Virginia, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maryland have all reported established colonies. Since the “Tree of Heaven” is considered invasive to most of the world, you wouldn’t think this pest would be a big deal.

                If the spotted lanternfly only attacked this invasive tree, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article, because it wouldn’t matter to us. Unfortunately, this pest has acquired a taste for more valuable host. In America, researchers have identified infestations on grape vines, apple trees, ornamental trees, and common trees such as maple and walnut. This insect is also damaging a wide range of agricultural crops. Not only does their feeding damage and kill host, it also leaves behind “honeydew” that causes mold to form, furthering its impact. This widespread damage is costing farmers, homeowners and landowners untold amounts of money each year.

                                “Tree of Heaven” has a wide distribution across the United States, from Maine to Florida, to California. The reality is that here in our part of the world, the spotted lanternfly is a real threat. If you see an insect you believe to be a lanternfly, please call me or bring it to the extension office. Be safe out there.