Creature Feature

Spotted Lanternfly

The spotted lanternfly, despite its name, is not a fly but a type of planthopper native to China. Its preferred host is the tree of heaven, or Ailanthus, but it isn't picky—it can damage over 173 types of crops and ornamental plants. In its native habitat, parasitic wasps keep its population in check. However, in the United States, where it first appeared in Pennsylvania in 2014, the spotted lanternfly has become an invasive menace, spreading rapidly to 13 surrounding states. Interestingly, both tree of heaven and the spotted lanternfly are considered invasive species in several states, though they did not arrive together. Tree of heaven was introduced to the United States in 1784 as an ornamental plant.

The spotted lanternfly thrives best on tree of heaven, and its preference for this host increases as nymphs mature into adults. The first three nymphal stages are black with white dots, while the fourth and final nymphal stage features striking red on the top of the body and wing pads. Nymphs start to appear around the beginning of May, with adults emerging as early as July. By mid-July, late-stage nymphs and adults actively search for tree of heaven. After mating, egg masses are laid from late September through the onset of winter, and these egg masses on outdoor items are the primary way the spotted lanternfly is spread to new areas.

Managing ornamental plants for spotted lanternfly is most effective from mid-May through August. Tree banding—wrapping a tree trunk with a sticky trap—from the end of April through the end of July is effective in capturing the first three nymphal stages. If there is tree of heaven on the property, focus on treating them, especially around mid-July when late nymphs and adults need to feed on them. A systemic insecticide, which is water-soluble and absorbed by a plant, is transported in its sap and ingested by spotted lanternflies. Both systemic and non-systemic insecticides provide a contact kill. Some insecticide manufacturers provide a FIFRA Section 2(ee) recommendation for applying a product for a specific pest. Confirm with your state what you are allowed to do for spotted lanternfly treatment and if you need an additional license to do so.

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