Lanternflies: Scourge of the Southside

When I moved to the Lehigh Valley I expected to see new types of flora and fauna. I had always loved being surrounded by nature but being raised in a densely populated town in North Jersey, I didn’t get much exposure to it. So when I moved out of my childhood home I was so excited to finally live in an area where babbling brooks, scenic trails, and interesting new wildlife were just a hop, skip, and a jump away. My picturesque expectations were thoroughly crushed once I arrived – not because the Lehigh Valley is actually quite heavily populated compared to the rest of Pennsylvania. After all, I could still drive half an hour out of the city and be surrounded by nature; my gripe with the area has to do with a little invasive species of planthoppers that has laid siege over the city I currently reside in. I am, of course, talking about the dreaded Spotted Lanternfly, or Lycorma delicatula.


What are lanternflies?


Lanternflies are a small, planthopper species that are native to East Asia, specifically China, India, and Vietnam. Though it is unclear how exactly they got here, the US Department of Agriculture states that they first arrived in the states in 2014, possibly hitching a ride from wood imports from Asia. They are known for their distinctive spotted, slightly translucent forewings and their bright red hind wings; these are the markers the adult lanternfly. 


Why are they a Problem?


Ever since their arrival to Eastern Pennsylvania in 2014, the spotted lanternfly has been spotted across the state, from Pittsburgh to Philly, and in some parts of New Jersy, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. They are known to enjoy using their piercing mouthpieces to snack on commercially viable plants such as grapevines, maple, black walnut, birch, and willow trees, which according to an article posted by Penn State, can seriously damage these plants and even kill them. If the spread of these pests is not contained, they could potentially drain the Pennsylvania economy of at least $324 million dollars annually, according to the same article.


Not only are these bugs harmful to the environment, their abundance, once they’ve reached adulthood, makes a person not want to go outside. During their peak season, which is around August-September, they’re known to congregate around brightly colored objects and buildings with many windows. My university actually built an off-campus apartment complex last year and during their peak season, the building was covered in lanternflies. There would be hundreds of dead lanternflies lining the entrances of the building; it was repulsive. The building, mind you, has bright yellow awnings and is covered in windows.


What you can do to stop their spread


Fortunately, lanternflies are quite easy to kill. Though they are planthoppers and can jump to great heights, they’re easy to sneak up on and they use their wings to descend leisurely to the ground. The best thing you can do as an individual is to get them while they’re young. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture states that destroying their egg masses can go a long way and will prevent their spread.

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