The Invasion of the Lanternfly
By Julia Termine
Lycorma delicatula, also known as the Spotted Lanternfly (SLF), is an invasive species that has spread through the southeastern Pennsylvania following its discovery in 2014 in Berks County. The SLF is native to China, and was reported as invasive is in South Korea in 2006. There, it quickly spread to different parts of Southeast Asia. Spotted Lanternfly is not a fly but belongs to the family Fulgoridae or large planthoppers. They are referred to as lanternflies because the inflated front section of the head was thought to light up. As a planthopper, the spotted lanternfly hops from one plant to the ext, feeding on woody trees, vines, fruit trees, and ornamental trees. The Tree-of-Heaven, another invasive species prevalent Pennsylvania, is one of the more popular host plants. It contains cytotoxic alkaloids, which is poison that the SLF metabolizes. The reason for the bright red wings is to warn predators of its toxic nature. They also like hosts containing high sucrose and fructose content like grapevines. There are upwards of 50 eggs deposited in an egg case on their host plants but the eggs are hard to spot- they start out looking like brown seeds. As they develop into the secondary stage, nymphs, the lanternfly has a black body. As adults, the SLF develop that brilliant red color and white spots on their wings.
After capturing a SLF in Berks County last fall, researchers have found a way to sequence and assemble the spotted lanternfly’s genome. Using new technology, the genome was sequenced from one insect. Typically, this would have required inbreeding the insect over many generations to complete the sequencing, to acquire all the data necessary to sequence the DNA. However, the DNA from one SLF is as much genetic information the researchers need to track the past and learn more about their movement patterns. It could also potentially help scientists develop gene silencers which could prevent certain genes that allow the SLF to adapt and spread efficiently.
Trap Tree Method
Using pesticides to kill the SLF is not ideal because it harms plants and animals. Therefore, the PA Department of Agriculture has been using methods, called Integrated Pest Management (IPM), that specifically target the plants that host the SLF. IPM kills about 90% of the host trees that are female and leaves the remaining host trees to remain as trap trees. Trap trees are treated with insecticide that will kill the lanternfly when they feed. Though the concern is whether the use of pesticides will impact the surrounding wildlife, the chemicals are being used thoughtfully and judiciously according to Penn State Extension’s SLF expert, Emilie Swackhamer. The pesticides are only being applied to the base and the trunk of the tree.
Sex attractant trap techniques involves using pheromones that mimic the way that females SLF’s attract males. The goal is to trap and exterminate male SLF but this method has been largely unsuccessful.
As more infestation locations are identified, everyone from citizens to scientists, are identifying and destroying egg masses on trees. Communities are implementing egg scraping programs as an educational and mitigation initiative. This specific strategy, in conjunction with local agricultural extension programs, trains local citizens to identify egg masses and then scrape the masses with stiff plastic cards into bags containing an alcohol solution to destroy the eggs.
Notice the tape circling the trunks of trees around sidewalks and parks? This is yet another method of lanternfly population control. The tape is mainly used on the Tree of Heaven a favorite tree for lanternfly feedings. When the pest goes to feed or mate on this tree, it gets stuck on the tape. The taper is used to not only capture the lanterflies, but also used to collect and report the number of bugs captured to track the infestation.
The Tree of Heaven is a quick growing plant with a full fan of leaves that make for a beautiful addition to Allentown’s landscaping. However, it is also perpetuating our lanternfly infestation. To help solve the problem, any trees within a quarter-mile radius of infested trees are removed.Herbicides are used to treat leftover stumps and control anything that could sprout from the host-species. This special herbicides has the specific function of inhibiting growth.
Julia Termine graduated from Muhlenberg College with a B.A. in Public Health and a minor in Sustainability Studies. After spending the past two summers working with indigenous communities in Costa Rica and Bangladesh, Julia has developed a passion for learning about climate change and environmental justice. Ultimately, she finds herself pondering the relationship between communities and animal species, as non-native species have posed a huge problem locally. She prizes her beer, grapes and Pennsylvania’s environment she does not want to see destroyed by the spotted lanternfly. She plans to complete her Masters in Environmental Health at Boston University and hopes to save the world. When not stomping on spotted lanternflies, Julia can be found watching documentaries, dog-watching or thinking about the next hot sustainable thing she can purchase.
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Duffy, K. (2019, October 10). Lower Nazareth joins fight against spotted lanternfly. Retrieved from https://www.mcall.com/news/local/nazareth/mc-nws-lower-nazareth-20191010-ebzudjb4urddpnyw3rcc4jhh4e-story.html
Roy, P., Frentzel, K., Charkes, S., Steward, E., & Easement Stewardship Intern. (2018, June 14). Invasive Species Spotlight: Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) and Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula). Retrieved from https://www.brandywine.org/conservancy/blog/invasive-species-spotlight-tree-heaven-ailanthus-altissima-and-spotted-lanternfly
Swackhamer, E. (2019, November 23). Spotted Lanternfly Management and Pesticide Safety. Retrieved from https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly-management-and-pesticide-safety