Update: They’re back! Spotted Lanternflies have been…well, spotted all around the city this month and we’re still being encouraged to kill ’em. Read on to find out how.
First, we were threatened by those horrifically named murder hornets. Then, we were grossed out by the multitude of carcasses left behind by those loud-AF Brood X cicadas. Now? Say hello to the spotted lanternfly.
While its name sounds like it’s a cute and harmless little bug, it can actually be very devastating to our ecosystem and agriculture here in the U.S. And now, having invaded Pennsylvania first in 2014, they’ve made their way to New York.
Native to China, these little suckers (literally, they suck out plant juices) hopped aboard some shipment to Pennsylvania in 2014 and they’ve been making moves in the northeast ever since. Last year was the first year they were spotted in NYC (in Staten Island, specifically) but now they’re being spotted everywhere across the boroughs—near the Barclays Center, in Prospect Park, in Central Park, on the High Line, on Randall’s Island and even in private home gardens.
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— Nina (@troylikethecity) August 16, 2021
The bug, which is not actually a fly but more closely related to the cicada, sucks on the sap of more than 70 species of plants including native trees like oak and maple but also the invasive Chinese sumac (the Ailanthus altissima, aka Tree of Heaven). Their feeding stresses the plants and makes them vulnerable to disease and attacks from other insects.
“These bugs are kind of remarkable. It’s a beautiful insect, so it’s a shame we have to kill them.”
It’s not only trees that are in danger either—grapes, apples and other fruits can also be targeted, which in turn causes economic damage to those industries by destroying the crops or leaving marks on fruit so that farmers cannot sell them, according to Dr. Jessica Ware, an assistant curator in invertebrate zoology at the American Museum of Natural History.
“We may not have a lot of direct crops here in New York City, but we all like to drink grape juice, wine, eat apples,” she tells us, adding that many of these crops are grown upstate. “Any population we have of the lanternfly can at the source ultimately have an impact on our agriculture. These bugs are kind of remarkable. It’s a beautiful insect, so it’s a shame we have to kill them.”
That’s right. We have to kill them. Otherwise, they could continue to spread westward and reach California, where there could be “pretty serious devastating economic events,” Dr. Ware says.
And don’t feel bad about squishing them—you’re doing the right thing. We’re actually being given permission to squash as many of them as we can to help prevent this and avoid using insecticide on a mass scale, which poses its own risks.
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Not sure what to look out for? Adult spotted lanternflies are approximately one-inch long and ½-inch wide at rest, with eye-catching wings. Their forewings are grayish with black spots. The lower portions of their hindwings are red with black spots and the upper portions are dark with a white stripe.
If you see it, squish it. They tend to jump forward so it is hard to catch them, Dr. Ware says.
“The first time I squished one — and I have killed a lot of insects in my life — and even for me, that was gross,” she adds. “Since they drink plant juice, it’s like squishing a grape. There’s gooey liquid inside of them. It’s a juicy insect, so just be prepared for that.”
If that isn’t gross enough, the best way to get rid of them is to find them before they hatch. Their egg masses, which can be found on pretty much anything from tree trunks and rocks to cars and firewood, look like dried chewing gum. They are smooth and brownish-gray with a shiny, waxy coating when first laid. Horrifically, females can lay multiple egg masses a year, from July to September. In Pennsylvania’s infestation, it was about 200 eggs per tree.
Dr. Ware says to destroy them by placing them in double bags and kill them with alcohol before putting them in the garbage. You can also treat your trees with insecticide and check around before you travel anywhere.
“Beware, they’re very good hitchhikers,” she said. “Be sure that if you’re traveling anywhere, that you’re not taking them with you. We are seeing them move further and further west because they hang on to cars and belongings. Check your car before you take off somewhere.”
If you find these bugs (and hopefully squish them), you can report your sighting to email@example.com and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets here. If you do, include photos.
Let’s end this creepy-crawly nightmare!
Over the weekend we saw this SPOTTED LANTERNFLY by the Central Park Pool. It is an invasive pest, dangerous to trees and plants. If you see one, kill it—as we did—and report it to the NYS DEC. https://t.co/8Hujll7C9t pic.twitter.com/AhX0FeoM97
— Manhattan Bird Alert (@BirdCentralPark) August 10, 2021
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.