Over the past decade in PA, no pest has become more infamous than the spotted lanternfly — and for good reason! These invasive insects have devastated local vineyards and agriculture. With no natural predators and an adept ability to hitch a ride on everything from backpacks to firewood, spotted lanternflies multiplied and spread quickly. One of their favorite foods is Ailanthus altissima (common name tree of heaven), which was introduced to PA in the late 1700s for its appeal as a fast-growing ornamental tree.
However, Ailanthus quickly lost popularity for its weedy nature, prolific root sprouting and foul odor. But it was too late. This “tree of heaven” had already invaded forests, farmlands and even urban areas — almost as if it knew the spotted lanternfly would eventually be coming to feast. Unfortunately, our own Thomas P. Bentley Nature Preserve is host to a grove of Ailanthus, which Preserve Manager Jim Moffett is diligently working to eliminate.
That is no easy task! An ailing aspect of Ailanthus is its ability to resprout prolifically, like the mythological Hydra, even when techniques such as girdling are used. The most effective and target-specific means of eradicating Ailanthus is the bluntly-named “Hack-and-Squirt” method. By making spaced, downward-angled cuts below the last live branch, an herbicide can be introduced into the living tissue to deaden the tree (pictured above), without triggering roots to resprout.
Though this method will rid the Nature Preserve of Ailanthus, spotted lanternflies still abound. To manage those populations, Jim has built and installed circle traps (pictured above). Circle traps are a system in which netting, plastic jugs and bags are used to form a tunnel that traps spotted lanternflies as they climb the trunk of the tree. This method is preferred to the often-used sticky bands, which are more prone to capturing and harming non-target animals and pollinators.
So far, both methods have been working well to solve the spotted lanternfly infestation. The only drawback? The persistent sound of raining honeydew (aka lanternfly waste) coming from the traps. Though the name conjures images of ripe summer melon, this substance is far from it. For humans, anyway. But bees love the honeydew, as it provides a rich sugar source in times of low pollen and nectar availability. Is this new carbohydrate source a boon for struggling bee populations? We will gladly leave that verdict to the research scientists!