Plague of Invasive Spotted Lanternflies Descending on 14 States

by Taylor Cunningham

Invasive spotted lanternflies are currently swarming parts of the Midwest and East Coast and devouring trees in their path.

The insect first appeared in the United States in 2014. But it wasn’t until 2022 that it left such a devastating mark. In total, spotted lanternflies have plagued 14 states this summer, including Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Delaware. And they’ve also spanned into Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Indiana, Ohio, and Rhode Island.

Spotted Lanternflies, which are native to China, are tiny insects that only grow to be 1 inch. They can be identified by their black-spotted gray forewings and red hindwings, which are also spotted. Females lay two egg masses a year that have around 30 to 50 eggs inside. So populations can quickly grow out of control.

Lanternflies live off of fruit, ornamental, and woody trees. When they feed, they suck the fluids out of plant tissues until the tree dies. There are 70 types of trees that the insects target in the US, including peach, maple, apple, and grape. And they work so quickly that they can cost the agricultural industry millions.

Emilie Swackhamer, a plant science expert at Penn State Extension in Collegeville, Pennsylvania said that the infestations this year are unimaginable. And there’s no telling how much damage they will cause before winter weather kills the swarms.

“I’ve seen lanternflies build to populations where you can’t even see the bark of the tree through the insect bodies,” she told New Scientist. “It’s unnerving because you wonder what that’s doing to the health of the tree.”

The APHIS Asks People to Find and Destroy Lanternflies Egg Masses

Unfortunately, while the adult flies die after the first frost, the egg masses survive. And the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) writes that they easily spread across the states by laying their masses on outdoor gear and cars. Scientists believe that lanternflies will make it to California by 2033.

The APHIS asks people living in the infected areas to help curb the population by finding and destroying adults and egg masses. Aside from gear and cars, the females also lay their eggs on tree bark. The masses look brownish-yellow and are covered in a waxy substance that eventually turns gray.

“We can understand the hesitancy to kill the spotted lanternfly, which appear colorful and harmless,” Chris Logue, director of plant industry for the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, said. “However, the damage this invasive species can do in harming important crops and impacting our food system is real. We just can’t take the chance.”