Swat, stomp, splat these little buggers!
Last summer, I met a good friend for one of our usual ‘walk and talks’ and we decided to meet at McMichael Park and to walk through the neighborhood down to the river. Along the way, we encountered homeowners in their yards whacking the daylights out of Spotted Lantern Flies (SLF). When we got to the river, after visiting a local establishment for a to go fried chicken dinner (we were in the middle of the pandemic), we encountered other folks diligently squishing SLFs along Kelly Drive.
I was beyond impressed with the diligence of the efforts and those efforts must continue as this scourge is still with us.
A little background: the SLF is an invasive planthopper native to China, India, and Vietnam. The first detection of this non-native species to the United States was discovered in Pennsylvania in Berks County (aren’t we lucky!) in September of 2014. It has since spread to 34 other counties in the Commonwealth.
A few quick facts about these pests:
- They threaten agricultural and ornamental plants. (The potential damage to agricultural crops such as grapes, hops, and hardwoods, could run into billions of dollars.)
- They’ve been found in 10 other states in the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions.
- They don’t bite or sting.
- They don’t always kill the trees they feed on. SLF is a plant stressor that, along with other stressors, can cause significant damage to its host. The SLF causes serious damage in trees including oozing sap, wilting, leaf curling, and tree dieback. In addition to tree damage, when the SLFs feed, they excrete a sugary substance, called honeydew, that encourages the growth of black, sooty mold (which is harmless to people, but is a real nuisance on playground equipment or patio furniture).
Egg laying begins in late September and continues through late November or early December and can occur on manmade surfaces in addition to plants (egg masses contain 30-50 eggs each).
When the SLF is in the nymph stage (April to October) they have black bodies and legs and are covered in bright white spots (in the last nymph stage, or instar, they become bright red with white spots). They are wingless and are about ½ inch in size. They will grow to approximately one inch long and can jump several feet when startled. (Pro tip: They tire quickly after that first jump, so if you can take a 2nd or 3rd stomp at them, your chances of splatting them are greatly improved.)
As they develop into the adult stage, (July to November) the SLF at rest has grayish wings with black spots, and when flying or startled, they display vibrant red hind wings. In their adult form, an empty plastic water bottle is particularly effective in catching them by the dozen. (Check out YouTube for videos to learn this very simple technique.)
These are called bad bugs for a reason so, thank you for helping to do your part and rid our community of these colorful but destructive pests.
The PA Department of Agriculture (PDA) and the Penn State Extension Service are both valuable resources for dealing with this scourge.
I am particularly intrigued by the use of the relatively new ‘circle trap’ demonstrated online on the Penn State site.
The circle trap can eliminate large numbers of destructive SLFs without harming beneficial pollinators or small animals. These traps are inexpensive to buy, and easy to make with items you may have around the house.
Efforts continue to contain and eradicate this scourge (I have used this word repeatedly, so you have no doubt how I feel).
Since 2015, the PDA has received more than $34 million to combat the SLF in Pennsylvania, including $20 million in federal funds and another $14 million in state investment. The department also awarded more than $260,000 in January for four priority research projects.
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