What You Need To Know About the Spotted Lanternfly

April 28, 2021

What is the spotted lanternfly? Chances are if you live in Pennsylvania, you already have seen this insect. The spotted lanternfly is an invasive species native to China and other Southeast Asian countries. The pest was discovered in Berks County in 2014 and has spread throughout Pennsylvania and neighboring states: north to Massachusetts, south to North Carolina, and west to Indiana and Michigan (See the Spotted Lanternfly distribution map for the mid-atlantic area). The spotted lanternfly feeds on many different plants and can cause significant damage to some species. Many homeowners have reported sightings and damage due to this pest, both direct damage by feeding and secondary damage due to excessive sooty mold formation on lanternfly excrement (honeydew). Here is what you need to know about this invasive species and what you can do if you spot the colorful insect around your property.

What You Need to Know About the Spotted Lanternfly

The spotted lanternfly is currently reported to be found in 34 Pennsylvania counties and can build to astounding numbers when left unmanaged. While many Pennsylvania residents have spotted this invasive species on their landscapes, we have some information to help those who want to keep their landscape free from invasive species.

Appearance

Adult spotted lanternflies can be identified from their coloration and bodies. The insect has grayish wings with black spots, and the tips are black and gray, while the bodies are black. When flying, spotted lanternflies will show vibrant red hind wings. Adults are around 1 inch long and a half-inch wide with wings folded. They can jump several feet when startled or approached.

You can also identify the pest via their egg masses or nymph stage. Egg masses are typically found on tree bark on the underside of scaffold branches and occasionally on other smooth surfaces such as rocks, outdoor furniture, and even vehicles. The mass is usually around 1 inch long and a half to three-quarters of an inch wide, with a gray-brown, mud-like covering. Spotted lanternfly nymphs are much smaller than adults, only about 1/8 to 1/2 an inch long (depending on instar), but have distinct coloration: initially black with white spots and wingless, developing red patches and white spots as they mature.

Spotted lanternfly on leaf | spotted lanternfly | Burkholder Brothers
Spotted lanternflies clustered on tree | spotted lanternfly | Burkholder Brothers

Behavior & Problems

Spotted lanternflies feed on plant sap, and at a high population, this can cause significant damage to an area’s plant life. While known to feed on over 70 different plants, spotted lanternflies have shown a strong preference for the tree of heaven, or ailanthus tree, as well as grapevines, maple trees, black walnut, birch, willow, and styrax. Feeding on tree and plant sap can cause wilting, leaf curling, and dieback. As the spotted lanternfly feeds on plant sap, the insect excretes a sugary substance called “honeydew,” which can attract bees, wasps, other insects and promotes the growth of sooty mold, which causes further damage to plants.

To help you better identify the plant pest, here are the months that each life occurs.

  • Egg masses: The invasive pest will usually lay eggs from September to November, and lanternfly spend the winter as eggs.
  • Nymphs: Nymphs will first hatch around May to June and mature until around July to September.
  • Adults: July to September is when most spotted lanternflies have matured into adults; mating and egg laying can continue until December.

The insect has become so prevalent that Pennsylvania has put affected counties under quarantine to stop the movement and slow the insect’s spread to new areas within or out of the current quarantine zone. The quarantine involves traveling and transporting outdoor items.

What You Can Do

So if you see any spotted lanternfly or signs of its damage on your property, contact Burkholder Plant Health Care (PHC). Burkholder PHC treats spotted lanternflies as part of our plant health care program. Our plant health care program emphasizes proper diagnosis and precise treatment, using only state-of-the-art, research-backed methods and equipment. We also utilize various pest management and control processes to keep your landscape free of invasive, harmful pests.

Additional Spotted Lanternfly Resources

For more information about spotted lanternfly issues in Pennsylvania, you may wish to visit the following resource links.

Cooperative State Program Homepage

Cooperative State Program Map

Pennsylvania Quarantine Details/Updates

Pennsylvania Quarantine Map

Mid-Atlantic SLF Distribution Map

Contact Burkholder Brothers for Plant Health Care Services

If you want to keep your landscape beautiful, healthy, and free of spotted lanternfly, contact Burkholder Brothers for a consultation. Our team of landscape professionals has decades of experience designing, building, and maintaining refined landscapes for Main Line residents. We have up-to-date knowledge of the latest and best practices on plant health and landscape design. The passionate and experienced specialists at Burkholder will work with you to create your dream landscape. For more information on our services, contact us today.

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