Spotted lanternfly

To add to the mix of invasive Asian-origin insects, the Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) this September had its first confirmed US sighting in Pennsylvania. Native to China, it has migrated in recent years to parts of Asia and in 2006 was discovered in South Korea. A member of the plant hopper family, its sucking mouth parts penetrate tree bark for feeding.

The insect has been observed to prefer fruit trees, grape vines, and trees with cytotoxic properties like Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima). (Cytotoxicity is the property of being toxic to cells.) Some trees and plants produce cytotoxic alkaloid chemicals to help retard their competition in the tree and plant world. In historical medicine, ailanthus, for example, was the source of natural Chinese medicinal antibacterial treatments. Modern pharmaceutical uses of naturally produced cytotoxic alkaloids include cancer chemotherapy. The spotted Lanternfly is thought to prefer trees with cytotoxic properties to help protect it from predators. The insect does not feed directly on fruit. It feeds on trees by piercing the bark. Dark stains on the bark often provide evidence of spotted lanternfly activity. Trees are not directly killed by the insect. Affected trees are placed under stress, retarding growth and placing them at risk from other invaders.

A mid-sized plant hopper, adults are about 1 inch in length, with wings folded, and have a wingspan of approximately 1-1/2 inches, with males slightly smaller than females. Adults have a dark body with grayish dark-spotted wings, yellowish abdomen, and hind wings with bright red, white and black bands that do not show unless it is flying. Mating and egg-laying occur in the fall. Eggs are deposited in groups of about 30 to 50 on tree bark, covered with a yellowish-brown, waxy appearing substance. The insect overwinters in egg form, hatching in the spring. Wingless nymphs are black with white spots in early stages and reddish with white spots in later stages.

The spotted lanternfly is an invasive insect that has been discovered in Berks County, Pa.

Scraping spotted lanternfly egg masses off trees and destroying them is one mechanism of control. The spotted lanternfly nymph and adult stages also appears to be controlled by common pesticides, including pyrethrins and organophosphates. There is research showing that parasitic wasps attack eggs and help control the spotted lanternfly in Asia. It is too early for research on potential natural controls in the US.

The name lanternfly comes from the large front portion of the head which resembles a lantern. In November, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture placed a quarantine for a section of Berks County to limit movement of wood, brush and items stored outdoors, including vehicles that may harbor spotted lanternfly eggs or insects, without obtaining a permit from the state.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has also requested that any insects or egg masses collected be treated with alcohol or hand-sanitizer before being provided with location information to the county extension or department of agriculture offices in sealed containers.

Article by Tom Anderson, FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 3/8/2015