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To Kill a Spotted Lanternfly: An Update on Success

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  • Digital Team 

It may seem a strange way to become a hero, but in New York, killing spotted lanternflies has achieved that status. 

But what is a spotted lanternfly, and why has it earned the ire of the ordinarily unflappable New Yorkers? Let’s break it down.

What is a spotted lanternfly?

The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is a planthopper. Planthoppers are “true bugs,” meaning they are part of the order Hemiptera. They live and feed on plants, and they are strong jumpers.

With spread wings, many people mistake the spotted lanternfly for a colorful butterfly or moth. However, they are actually a planthopper species indigenous to parts of China and Vietnam. Its preferred host is a tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), but it infests crops, including soybeans, grapes, stone fruits, and crab apples. Parasitic wasps regulate spotted lanternfly populations in their native habitat.

During their life cycle, spotted lanternflies go through four wingless growth stages (instars) before becoming adults. After hatching, the tiny nymphs are black with white spots in the first three instars. In the fourth, they become red and black with white spots and are about 1.5 cm long. 

Spotted lanternflies are univoltine, meaning that a generation lasts for one year. They hatch in May and are active until December. Their eggs survive through the winter into the following year.

How do spotted lanternflies damage plants?

Spotted lanternflies were first spotted in the US in 2014. They began to swarm New York City every summer since 2020. They have likewise become a nuisance across the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest. They pose no risk to humans, but lanternflies can damage agricultural crops, particularly grapevines, by sucking sap. 

Additionally, planthoppers produce honeydew, a sugary liquid attractive to other insects such as wasps, ants, and bees. It can also cause sooty mold to grow on the plant on which it is deposited. This fungal disease inhibits the plant’s ability to create the energy required to survive and thrive. It is particularly problematic when insects congregate in large numbers to feed. 

The spotted lanternfly’s preferred host plant is the tree of heaven, which has been introduced to numerous countries, including South Korea, Japan, the US, and much of Europe. But the insects are equal opportunity pests. Various fruit, ornamental, and woody trees are on the menu, as are vines, vegetables, herbs, and grains.

What should you do if you see a spotted lanternfly in Finger Lakes?

At first, officials urged the public to remove lanternfly eggs from trees by scraping them off. But that was far more labor intensive than killing the bugs, so the city switched tactics.

There are numerous ways to eliminate spotted lanternflies. One technique involves stomping on them by raising a foot high and squashing them. Other typical insect-squishing methods include using a rolled-up magazine to swat them, smacking them with your hand, or smashing them with a paper towel. You could also check out services at to give your place a good going over.

People across the five boroughs have done their duty by following the city’s directive to kill the invasive insects on sight. But is it working? New Yorkers can only squash so many invaders.

The effect of New Yorkers’ lanternfly killing is marginal, and there was little proof that isolated stomping significantly impacted the lanternfly population. However, the communal effort helps raise public awareness of the problem and empowers people.

How bad is the problem?

The bugs have been seen riding the subway, littering streets, and even infiltrating apartments. That is evidence that New York City’s lanternfly problem is getting worse. Entomologists agree that the population of lanternflies in New York City is much higher than last year.

That is typical when the spotted lanternfly relocates. The populations build up for the first two years, then level off and drop in the following years.

Determining the number of spotted lanternflies in New York City is difficult since no one keeps official records of sightings or killings. However, due to their life cycle, these insects are more visible toward the end of the summer. Most of the lanternflies that hatched this year have now become adults. Additionally, most are at eye level since they tend to climb buildings, perhaps to catch wind currents.

The good news is that the city is grappling with the last lanternflies it will see for the year. The adults will remain active until October, during which they will lay eggs. After that, they will die due to the first hard freeze of winter, while the eggs will endure hatching into new lanternflies the following year.

It is not true that lanternflies are becoming more daring and adept at evading attempts to eradicate them. However, experts suggest confronting them directly since they tend to lunge forward when threatened.

The increase in lanternflies has been a real pain. Still, NY has been lucky enough to avoid the agricultural damage in Pennsylvania. Wine merchants on Long Island and in the Finger Lakes region have been on high alert. But so far, the bugs haven’t messed with the wine industry in New York.

There have been reports of lanternflies outside the city. Still, the insects have yet to infiltrate the eastern portion of Suffolk County. Winemakers know that the infestation could worsen, but there’s not much they can do. Hopefully, scientists will come up with a long-term solution.

What is being done now?

Growers in Pennsylvania say that while lanternfly infestations are bad, they are manageable. Effective preventive measures involve laying a fine mesh over the vines and spraying insecticides. However, these are last resort because they can damage crops.

The US Department of Agriculture is monitoring ports to curb the invasion of spotted lanternflies to other areas. Officials also urge people to check their clothing, luggage, and cars when driving out of the city, as lanternflies are excellent hitchhikers.

Experts in New York are experimenting with larger-scale solutions than footwear. In higher-risk areas such as the Bronx, officials have wielded special vacuums to suck up lanternflies. The New York Botanical Garden went the denial route by removing plants that are attractive to insects. Alternatively, the Bronx Zoo hung triangular mesh traps engineered to catch lanternflies.

Entomologists in the Northeast are exploring the introduction of insects that naturally prey on lanternflies. However, such a measure is years away from implementation. Birds and predatory insects may soon realize that spotted lanternflies are an excellent food source. This could help control the population of the bugs, but it won’t get rid of them completely.

Nevertheless, New Yorkers need to continue the killings. Much is still unknown about the lanternflies and how to eliminate them, so every action counts.

Categories: EnvironmentNews