The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets has confirmed that the Spotted Lanternfly (SLF), an invasive insect, has been found in 19 counties in New York State as of August 2021. The pest targets the invasive ailanthus trees (Tree of Heaven), in particular, and attacks a wide variety of crops including grapes, hops, apples and forest products.
The Spotted Lanternfly is a plant hopper originating from Southeastern Asia, including places such as China and Vietnam. The first instance of SLF in the United States originated in Pennsylvania in September, 2014, presumably brought here on imports from Asia. Since then, the pest has spread throughout Pennsylvania, as well as to neighboring states such as Delaware, Virginia, New Jersey, and New York.
Identification and Life Stages
The Spotted Lanternfly is easy to identify. There are four main life stages: egg masses, black nymphs, red nymphs, and adults. The black nymph state is the youngest, ranging from the first through third instars, (molts). They appear from May to July, and are approximately 1/8 to 3/4 of an inch long. Red nymphs are the fourth instar, found from July to September. These nymphs will usually be around 3/4 of an inch long, being the largest of the nymphs. All nymph stages have a shape similar to that of a stink bug, and are black in coloration with white spots. Because the Spotted Lanternfly is a plant hopper, nymphs will often hop away very quickly when approached, sometimes to surprisingly large distances. They enjoy climbing up flat surfaces, but will mostly be found on the stems of plants like wild grape and Tree of Heaven.
The adult stage begins around July to December. The nymphs will make their final molt into an adult and develop wings. Sometimes, insects will be found mid-molt, where they have a strange, pinkish appearance.
Generally, adults will have tan, tent-shaped wings that unfurl to reveal additional set of red wings beneath them, especially visible when in flight. Adults can fly, but only for short distances. They will hop away very quickly when approached and can use their wings to fly away even more quickly. The adults also enjoy swarming together on various plants, including wild grape, Tree of Heave, and porcelain berry. Their usual instinct is to climb up, wherever that may be, during the day. During the nighttime, the insects crawl back down to the ground.
The different life cycles will oftentimes appear together. One might see a red nymph with other black nymphs or a red nymph with an adult.
If left unchecked, the Spotted Lanternfly can potentially wreak havoc on the New York’s grape, orchard and logging industries.vWhile Spotted Lanternfly can only kill grape and Tree of Heaven, it is a significant plant stressor for other plants. It causes harm by sucking sap from plant stems and leaves. This can reduce photosynthesis, weaken the plant and eventually contribute to the plant’s death. The potential that Spotted Lanternfly has for harming the agricultural economy is great. New York is filled with many vineyards that are a crucial portion to New York's booming economy. These vineyards supply countless jobs to people as well. If these vineyards are decimated, the wine industry in New York will collapse, as well as many other industries along with it.
Spotted Lanternfly also does a significant amount of damage to regular businesses as well, besides its influence on the general economy. It produces a sticky, honeydew-like substance that coats whatever area it is around. Black sooty mold always grows on top of this substance and attracts many other pests. Between the stench, the pests, and the vile image of mold crawling with bugs, a business infested with Spotted Lanternfly is sure to see many losses especially if they rely on people coming to their location. These infestations can also pass through these businesses and spread to other locations. Box stores and garden centers that have shipments in and out of their locations can easily spread the adults on shipments or trucks.
Photo by Erica Smyers
Invasive species can be transported to new locations in various ways. While the insect can walk, jump, or fly short distances, its long-distance spread is often facilitated by people who move infested material or items containing egg masses. One of the other main ways that it spreads is by the adults jumping onto cars or trucks and hitchiking to new locations. The insects like to be on flat and hard surfaces and are attracted to many different things like lumber shipments. This is why it is so beneficial for businesses to be aware of this issue, so that they don't unknowingly start an infestation in a new state. Spotted Lanternflies are easiest to spot at dusk or at night as they migrate up and down the trunk of the plant.
Currently, the map below shows the quarantine areas (within the red line) and infestation areas (blue land) for Spotted Lanternfly as of July 26, 2021.
In Rockland County, there are currently many efforts being coordinated to eliminate the threat of Spotted Lanternfly. Some of these include surveying and documenting instances of Spotted Lanternfly and Tree of Heaven, applying pesticides to Tree of Heaven in affected areas, and putting up circle traps at infestation sites.
Tree of Heaven
Tree of Heaven is one of the main substrates through which the Spotted Lanternfly spreads. Tree of Heaven is also another invasive species that comes from Asia. This tree is extremely aggressive; it grows very quickly and spreads seedlings at an unprecedented rate. It is also difficult to remove because removal will cause the plant to release more seedlings. Recommended treatment is to remove all Tree of Heaven and consistently remove all young seedlings for around 2 years. By then, the trees should stop growing.
The Tree of Heaven is most easily identified by the notch or glandular teeth at the back of each of the leaves, as shown below in the picture. There may be one or more of these teeth on each leaf. The leaves are opposite and compound, with alternate branching.
The bark of the tree is smooth and varies in different shades of brown. Adults will often congregate along the bark, as shown in the picture below, while nymphs will tend to congregate along the greener stems.
Orangeburg is the site of the largest current infestation in Rockland County. The other infestation in Sloatsburg is significantly smaller. The point of origin for the Orangeburg Infestation is the intersection of the Joseph B Clarke Rail Trail and Route 303. It is imperative for people who are within three miles of this location to check their cars, any shipments they are involved with, and person for any Spotted Lanternflies. Any instances should be reported and then killed. The easiest way to kill them is by swatting them or stomping on them. Currently, this site is being treated with pesticides and circle traps to lower the population of Spotted Lanternfly present.
IF YOU SEE A SPOTTED LANTERNFLY:
New York State Actions to Prevent the Spread of the Lanternfly: February 2021
How to Spot Egg a Spotted Lanternfly Egg Mass Web Page
Invasive Species Centre: Spotted Lanternfly
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Fact Sheet
New York State Integrated Pest Management Web Page
USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: Spotted Lanternfly
New York iMapInvasives SLF Web Page
Last updated August 23, 2023