Nature Notes: Spotted lanternfly

Spotted lanternfly nymphs.

The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is an invasive insect that is a threat to a wide variety of trees, grapevines and other woody plants. Of Asian origin where it was controlled by natural predators, it has migrated in recent years with global trade. In 2006, the spotted lanternfly was discovered in South Korea. In 2014, it was discovered in Pennsylvania, and this past fall had migrated to eastern Maryland and other nearby states. A member of the plant hopper family, its sucking mouth parts penetrate tree bark for feeding.

The insect has been observed to prefer fruit trees, grapevines, pines and trees with cytotoxic properties like Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima). Cytotoxicity is the property of being toxic to cells. Some trees and plants produce cytotoxic alkaloid chemicals to help retard their competition in the tree and plant world. Historically, ailanthus was the source of natural Chinese medicinal antibacterial treatments. Modern pharmaceutical uses of naturally produced cytotoxic alkaloids include cancer chemotherapy. The spotted lanternfly is thought to prefer trees with cytotoxic properties to help protect it from predators. The insect does not feed directly on fruit; it feeds on trees by piercing the bark. Dark stains on the bark often provide evidence of spotted lanternfly activity, as a sugary byproduct of their feeding referred to as “honeydew” is darkened by sooty mold. Trees are not directly killed by the insect. Affected trees are placed under stress, retarding growth and placing them at risk from other invaders.

A mid-sized plant hopper, adults are about 1 inch in length, with wings folded, and have a wingspan of approximately 1-1/2 inches, with males slightly smaller than females. Adults have a dark body with grayish dark-spotted wings, yellowish abdomen, and hind wings with bright red, white and black bands that do not show unless it is flying. Mating and egg-laying occur in the fall. Eggs are deposited in groups of about 30 to 50 on tree bark, covered with a yellowish-brown, waxy substance. The insect overwinters in egg form, hatching in the spring. Wingless nymphs are black with white spots in early stages, and reddish with white spots in later stages.

Scraping spotted lanternfly egg masses off trees and destroying them is one mechanism of control. The spotted lanternfly nymph and adult stages also appear to be controlled by common pesticides, including pyrethrins and organophosphates. There is research showing that parasitic wasps attack eggs and help control the spotted lanternfly in Asia. It is too early for research on potential natural controls in the US.

The name “lanternfly” comes from the large front portion of the head which resembles a lantern. The Maryland Department of Agriculture has placed a quarantine for Cecil and Harford counties to limit movement of wood, brush and items stored outdoors that may harbor spotted lanternfly eggs or insects. The Department has also requested that any insects or egg masses observed be reported by phoning 410-841-5920 or by message to DontBug.MD@maryland.gov.

Visit frederick.forestryboard.org for images and descriptions to help correctly identify the spotted lanternfly and to view a video on how to remove their egg masses.

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