Chances are that you haven’t heard much about the Spotted Lanternfly. You’ve had a lot of things to focus on this past year and a really pretty colored fly probably wasn’t one of them. So consider this my early warning, there are going to be countless articles, flyers and news segments on SLF soon, very soon. This bug is pretty and it’s favorite plant is called Tree of Heaven, sounds glorious so far right?
Nope, this bug sucks (sucks on plant sap that is)
Here’s the first big problem with Spotted Lanternfly, they are an incredibly invasive pest.
It’s easy to underestimate how big of a problem they are going to be. After all, we’ve survived Asiatic Lily Beetle, Asian Longhorn Beetle, Impatiens Downy Mildew and 2020. I do realize that the stream of never ending sky is falling news in invasive plants, pests and diseases seem to cast a doomsday shadow every spring. But this bug really does suck, so pay attention here, because it’s headed our way fast. Spotted lanternfly (SLF) is an invasive planthopper, native to Asia, that was first detected in southeastern Pennsylvania in 2014. SLF has spread rapidly through Pennsylvania and can now be found in most neighboring states. As of 2020 no known living SLF have been found in Massachusetts but with this bug, it’s just a matter of time.
Here are some things that you should know about the Spotted Lanternfly.
From the University of Massachusetts Extension Service Fact Sheet
The spotted lanternfly has been reported feeding on over 103 species of plants, according to new research (Barringer and Ciafre, 2020) and when including not only plants on which the insect feeds, but also those that it will lay egg masses on, this number rises to 172. This includes:
Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) (preferred host)
Apple (Malus spp.)
Plum, cherry, peach, apricot (Prunus spp.)
Grape (Vitis spp.)
Pine (Pinus spp.) and others
Other hosts reported for this insect include, but are not limited to: American beech (Fagus grandifolia), American linden (Tilia americana), American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), big-toothed aspen (Populus grandidentata), black birch (Betula lenta), black cherry (Prunus serotina), black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), black walnut (Juglans nigra), dogwood (Cornus spp.), Japanese snowbell (Styrax japonicus), maple (Acer spp.), oak (Quercus spp.), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), pignut hickory (Carya glabra), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), white ash (Fraxinus americana), and willow (Salix spp.).
So the really bad news is that this bug eats just about everything. More really bad news is that it reproduces with wild abandon.
As of today there are no known infestations in Massachusetts but be forewarned, they will affect you! You might think that just because you aren’t much of a gardener and that you may only have a few plants, these little buggers will pass your yard by – nope, not gonna happen!
Even with just a few flower beds and a tree they will eventually find you.
Here is what’s really gross about them. Spotted Lanternflies drip a honeydew residue (poop – bug poop) that turns to mold. This mold can cover the side of your house or cover an outdoor item like steps or decks. For this reason, even if you do not have a single flower in your yard, they will affect you.
There is more bad news, they have no known natural predators, which is my biggest concern with Spotted Lanterfly. They have no native Massachusetts predators to keep the population from exploding. Sure, praying mantises, spiders, and Assinbugs sometimes will eat them but not enough to control the populations. Beyond that, it does not seem like birds like to eat them either. Obviously they are just pretty to look at but don’t taste very good.
What’s a gardener to do? I’ve got two pieces of advice here.
If you see them, report them! Report sightings to https://massnrc.org/pests/slfreport.aspx
And then let’s unleash the killer gardener in you! If you see them, you should kill them!
But what is the best way to do this? It depends how bad they are. If there are only a few on the plant, tree, or the side of a building, etc, you can kill them mechanically with a broom or a fly swatter, etc. However, if there are a lot of SLF present, you will want to spray. We can recommend several organic spray controls or soil drench systemics, just stop in to see us and we can point you in the right direction..
They Tend to Prefer Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima):
One of the most important things to know about Spotted Lanternfly is that they love Tree of Heaven. This does not mean they do not eat other plants oh no, they will most certainly eat lots of other plants. Some favorites include Maples, Grapes, Pine, and fruit trees but the big problem is they eat almost everything.
More good news is they do not bite:
The only good thing about Spotted Lanternfly is that you do not have to worry about them biting you. I know you just read that and thought to yourself that I must have been really reaching for some little bit of good news to come up with this one, and reach I did, but this still makes them better than ticks in my book.
Beyond just killing them, these are some of the things you can do to stop the spread:
Walk around your property to check for egg masses on trees, cement blocks, rocks and any other hard surface. If you find egg masses on your property from September to May, you can scrape them off using a plastic card or putty knife.
Sticky Tree Bands
After the eggs hatch, nymphs will walk up the trees to feed on the softer new growth of the plant. Take advantage of this behavior by wrapping tree trunks in tree traps to catch the nymphs Traps can be used on any tree but we recommend only banding trees where SLF is abundant. You can use sticky bands but be forewarned that you will likely catch unintended insects, small rodents and even birds.
Tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is an invasive plant that is common along the sides of roads This is a preferred host tree for SLF, and current management efforts are focused on removing it or using it as a trap tree by treating it with an insecticide.
Only use insecticides that are registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to treat any insect on your property. Many organic contact spays have shown good results for killing SLF and systemic insecticides work well also. Don’t spray or treat if you don’t see any SLF as this won’t prevent them from moving into your yard. Your best course of action is to keep a sharp eye out, report any sightings and kill any SLF that you find!
I hope you are out there enjoying these beautiful waning days of summer!
Michelle and The Plant Geeks at Lakeview!