Environment: Philadelphia Fights Back Against Spotted Lanternfly

Spotted lanternflies are seemingly taking over Pennsylvania one county at a time, and they descended upon Philadelphia residents this fall. Experts have many tips for the public on how to control and minimize damage from these foreign bugs.

“This spotted lanternfly, it’s as an invasive as any pest we have ever had,” said Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary, Fred Strathmeyer (below). “It’s economically invasive. It’s environmentally invasive. And what you are experiencing here [in Philadelphia], it’s socially invasive.” 

What is the Spotted Lanternfly?

Spotted lanternfly, known by those in the field as SLF, is a pest native to China. It was first found in Pennsylvania in 2014. 

Spotted lanternfly (above) primarily feeds on the tree of heaven (Alianthus altissima). However, according to the USDA, it can feed on many host plants including fruit trees, oak, walnut, poplar and grape vines. 

Other than its damaging effects, spotted lanternflies do not pose a threat to animals or humans. They do not bite or sting. 

SLF can also currently be found in New Jersey, Delaware, and Virginia with sightings in Maryland and New York. 

The map from the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (NYSIPM) shows known infestations in the region at the end of September.

What is the impact of this pest?

In addition to harm of farms and other plant life, the primary concern is economic. The USDA is concerned that further spread of the pest will cause serious harm to the country’s grape, orchard and logging industries. According to Penn State Extension, these industries are worth nearly $18 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy. 

Pennsylvania has the 5th largest wine industry in the country, and vineyards in Berks and Lehigh Counties have already experienced losses. 

As an invasive species with no significant natural predators, the spotted lanternfly can spread very rapidly. The USDA says this is also facilitated by individuals moving eggs masses and bugs across county and state lines. 

At a recent presentation for industry professionals, Tommy McCann, the Philadelphia Horticulture Educator for the Penn State Extension, explained that the spotted lanternfly also has direct effects on homeowners. 

McCann said that these bugs produce a substance called “honeydew.” Honeydew is a sugar water produced when SLF feed on trees. Honeydew can cause mold to develop on plants, decks, lawn furniture, and cars. It also leaves a sticky residue which attracts bees and wasps. 

How are experts handling it?

The USDA, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA), and Penn State Extension have been driving actors in the fight against spotted lanternfly. There are various avenues of research going on in Pennsylvania and at top research universities in the mid-Atlantic region. 

According to Dr. Dennis Calvin, associate dean of the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, the college is funding new research on spotted lanternfly anatomy and habits and is working to develop new environmentally friendly biocides to fight the bug. These biocides use naturally occurring fungus. 

Kaleigh Hire, a plant health safeguarding specialist in the USDA’s Spotted Lanternfly Program, said it has treated 128 sites in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties with insecticides and herbicides. 

At a local level, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation (PP&R) is working with the USDA to eliminate tree of heaven plants and use male plants as lanternfly traps. 

Tom Witmer, the operations manager of Natural Lands Restoration for PP&R said it targeted four major parks in Philadelphia: FDR Park, Roxborough Reservoir, Pennypack on the Delaware and Pleasant Hill Park. Witmer said PP&R used efforts which would reduce the cost and risk of avid chemical use, while also eliminating as many plants as possible. 

What can Philadelphia residents do? 

Report and squish them.

If someone sees a spotted lanternfly, its location should be reported online or call 1-888-4BADFLY (1-888-422-3359). Even if reports have been made in an area, these calls help the USDA track SLF populations. 

Free apps like Squishr are also available. Squishr, which was developed by a University of Pennsylvania alumni, allows individuals to take photographs and post locations of sightings. It includes a leader board for “Today’s Top Squishers.” The app shares sighting locations with the Department of Agriculture, without needing to call the reporting hotline. 

Check your car. 

Bugs can travel hundreds of miles with a vehicle. In a recent statement, the Pennsvlvania Department of Agriculture said, “The adult Spotted lanternfly city-dwellers seen in recent weeks likely hitched rides on commuter vehicles from outside the city.”

Experts like Hire and McCann recommend that even if an individual is traveling within the quarantine area, the car should be checked. This includes trailers and any other equipment.

Check your stuff too. 

If an individual stores trash underneath an infested tree, moving it is recommended. McCann emphasized this can cause spotted lanternfly spread through transport on trash trucks and landfills. 

A list of items to check before you move can be found on the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture website. 

Get rid of egg masses.

Spotted lanternflies are currently laying their eggs until late fall. These eggs will stay dormant over the winter and hatch in spring. Egg masses can be found many places including trees, cars, lawn furniture, equipment, and sides of buildings. 

“You wanna see it ooze, that means you are doing a good job.” said Kaleigh Hire of the USDA, 

Instructions on how to destroy egg masses from the Penn State Extension:

Remove SLF’s host or use insecticide/herbicide.

Hire said tree of heaven are a very common plant in empty lots and backyards across the city. One can remove or treat these plants with insecticide. 

Instructions on how to identify tree of heaven can be found on the Penn State Extension website. 

Hire said that if trees are removed, it is recommended that individuals get the wood chipped to 1 inch by 1 inch and compost. If someone cuts down any tree of heaven, they must spray the stump with herbicide to prevent regrowth. 

Use of insecticides can prevent SLF from attaching to trees or kill them through ingestion of plant materials. Penn State Extension recommends individuals refrain from using natural or home remedies to replace these actions. 

Wrap your trees.

Sticky tape can be wrapped around tree trunks to prevent bugs from climbing to feed or lay eggs. 

The Penn State Extension has published a full guide for homeowners which includes instructions about egg scraping and tree banding, and tips for picking the correct pesticides/insecticides. 

Please email any questions or concerns about this story to: editor@philadelphianeighbors.com​​.

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