Spotted Lanternfly in Pennsylvania: The bug we love to hate
The bug we love to hate! This annoying bug swarms into neighborhoods, covering tree trunks and plants and fenceposts and whatever is in its way. The good news is that, after a year or two of residence, it has been disappearing, either all on its own or eaten by native fungus. The bad news is it then shows up somewhere else. More good news: almost every tree that was covered with the bug in the last 2 years has survived and looks no worse for the wear.
Because bees are disappearing at an alarming rate, and without bees we won’t have tomatoes or peppers or many other vegetables and fruits and flowers and trees, we worry about using pesticides which kill bees, because we can’t afford to lose any more pollinators. Plus, people are reporting seeing wasps, yellow jackets, spiders, dragonflies and assassin bugs killing the lanternflies, and we don’t want to impede their work. Right now, there are no pesticides that target the lanternfly, although Penn State and Cornell University are working on a biological control made from the fungus.
So, what to do? Here are 10 Tips that we have gathered to deal with adult lanternflies meant to assist homeowners whose properties are about an acre or who have less than 10 or 20 trees. For large property owners or grape growers, check in with Penn State for chemical solutions. This advice was gathered from professional sources (thank you, Penn State!), plus many very useful and practical tips from folks who have been living with this prolific and destructive bug for a couple of years now. We are very grateful to all the generous people who shared their coping strategies!
- Smushing the bugs is effective and the method that is least harmful to the environment. If the flies are on a hard surface, fly swatters and whiffle ball bats work. If you miss the first time, DON’T GIVE UP! Lanternflies jump GREAT the first time, not so good the second time, and then they lose energy. If you follow the bug, you will get it on the second or third try! Always try to come at the bugs from in front; they see better behind them. For the techies out there, there are special electric tennis rackets made for this – Zap-It, twin bug zappers – the first zap stops them from flying, then you can squash or zap again-Zappers – Rechargeable Mosquito, Fly Killer and Bug Zapper Racket – 4000 Volt – USB Charging, Super-Bright LED Light to Zap in the Dark, available on Amazon and at Aldi’s.
- Smushing again! If you are outside without your fly swatter, and you see one bug and want to smush it, this technique is fool-proof (but not good if you are squeamish). Very, very SLOWLY, put one hand in front of the bug. Very, very SLOWLY, put one hand behind the bug. Very, very SLOWLY, bring your back hand towards your front hand until you have the bug trapped between your hands. You can then squish it, step on it, or drop it in a jar or tub of water and quickly put the lid on.
- One of our 2 favorite methods for catching many adults on one tree or on the side of a house – a shop vac! A shop vac will suck them up quickly and they will be gone. If you don’t own a shop vac, you can buy a small bucket-sized one on Amazon or in many local stores.
- The sticky paper + hose method: If you have a tree with a bad infestation of lanternflies, wrap wide sticky paper or several strips of thinner sticky paper or inside-out duct tape around the bottom of the tree. Get out your hose or pressure washer and spray the bugs with water – or get out your leaf blower and spray the bugs with air – or knock the tree limbs with a broom – so they fall off of the tree. They will scramble to climb back up the tree, and they will get caught on the sticky paper. You may need to replace the sticky paper if it starts to fill up with lanternflies. Once most of the bugs have returned to the tree and been captured, remove the paper from your tree and fold it back on itself. Never leave sticky paper unattended, because it can harm beneficial insects and birds and other wild life.
- Protected sticky paper – Using narrow sticky paper or inside-out duct tape in 2” or less strips minimizes harm to wildlife. You can build a wire cage to go around the sticky paper to keep birds and animals away from the surface. Keep tape at least 4’ off the ground. Only use the tape around trees that the lanternflies are attracted to or around deck posts, if they like your deck. If you find a bird or bat attached to sticky paper, wildlife rescue associations ask that you do not try to rescue the animal yourself, but bring it in to them. They will remove the animal while trying do the least harm. If you cannot get to a wildlife rescue association, olive oil and soap can help remove the glue, but you do risk harming the animal.
- Bug Assault is a gun that shoots table salt at close range, and it works great on lanternflies. Here is a link to one that works: https://amzn.to/2P2NUEV With older flies, the first shot may not kill them, but it will stun them, and then you can squish or step on. Air guns and BB guns with no BB’s also kill them! To quote: just pump 4 to 5 times, get really close to them and pow, blown to smithereens!!
- Plant more milkweed! It appears that the lanternflies are attracted to Common Milkweed. We find dead lanternflies on it every day. The lanternflies are new here, and they don’t know it is poisonous, so they eat it and it kills them. The poisonous sap also slows them down, so they are much easier to catch and smush in your hand. At the very least, you will be helping save the Monarch Butterfly and helping other pollinators, who love the flowers. Asclepias syriaca
- If you are dying to spray them with something, these pesticides are endorsed by Penn State as excellent at killing them on contact, but they don’t stay long on surfaces, so they should do the least harm to the beneficial insects we need: Purely Green, Spotted Lanternfly Killer 2 (active ingredient essential oils); Bonide Neem Oil (active ingredient Neem); Garden Safe Multi-Purpose Garden Insect Killer, Natria Insect Mite and Disease Control (active ingredient natural pyrethrins; and Garden Safe Insecticidal Soap (active ingredient insecticidal soap).
- Don’t remove your spider webs! Spiders are catching lanternflies in their webs every day. Some of our spiders are learning to eat them. They will do lanternfly removal for you.
- Remove Tree of Heaven from your property and replace it with a native tree. There is a strong relationship between Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus) and the Spotted Lanternfly – they love it. Tree of Heaven is an invasive, noxious plant that produces ailanthone, a chemical which has been reported to possess herbicidal activity similar to glyphosate (Round-Up) and paraquat. It prevents native plants from growing around it. Removing Tree of Heaven from your property is always a good idea. You may need a professional to do this. Breathing the fumes from a freshly cut tree can be toxic. It will vigorously resprout once cut, so the stump will need to be treated to prevent regrowth. Tree of Heaven leaves are similar in appearance to walnut and sumac. There are 2 distinguishing features: 1) although the edges of the leaflets are smooth, there is a notch/bump near the base of the leaflets, and 2) if you tear the leaf and smell it, it gives off a strong, noxious odor.
- When trying to handle a nymph: Leave out trays of water. Some people add some lemon oil. For some reason, they climb in the tray and drown. Our use The Tupperware Tub method – you can catch oodles of nymphs in a very short time. You will need a Tupperware tub, margarine container, or large yogurt container with a tight-fitting lid. Put a couple inches of a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water in the bottom. Hold the tub under a branch on which there are nymphs. Tap the branch from above, the nymphs fall in the liquid, slap the lid on, and the nymphs will drown within 15 seconds. You can save the liquid for next time. Remember, never pour this liquid on the ground – pour it down your garbage disposal or toilet. Thanks to Lorraine Phillips for this idea.
Why shouldn’t I use Sevin?
Sevin is a non-specific pesticide (which means it kills all insects) that lasts for 7-10 days. It will kill beneficial insects that land on it. Our beneficial insects, like bees, butterflies and other pollinators, are struggling – they could be extinct from our area if we are not careful. Without beneficial insects, it will be impossible to grow fruits and most vegetables, and most of our trees, flowers and other plants won’t be able to reproduce. We need to be really smart in how we attack this infestation, or we will end up with a bigger problem.
Should I buy praying mantis online to eat the lanternflies?
Sadly, it is almost impossible to buy our native mantis online, and our native mantis is almost gone from the wild. Most of the ones sold online are the Asian mantis, which is 2-3 times larger (4″ and up) than our native one (2″) and causing enormous problems itself. Even if it says native Carolina mantis on a website selling them, it usually isn’t. It is eating large numbers of beneficial insects such as bees, butterflies and other pollinators, including hummingbirds. The only somewhat reliable way to tell the Asian species apart from the native is size. All mantises can be a variety of colors. They are good at camouflage
Spotted Lanternfly Eggs Masses start appearing in early fall. They are grey or brown globby 2-4″ smears that look a bit like old chewing gum on trees, cement blocks, rocks, cars, houses, barbecue grills – any hard surface. The good news is this is the easiest phase to get rid of – you can scrape them off using a plastic card, like a credit card or a putty knife. Scrape them into a small baggie or container filled with isopropyl alcohol or hand sanitizer. This is the most effective way to kill the eggs, but they can also be smashed or burned. Remember that some eggs will be laid at the tops of trees and may not be possible to reach.
How to be an expert at identifying and killing eggs – this great video from Penn State will get you up to speed in 2 minutes. https://extension.psu.edu/how-to-remove-spotted-lanternfly-eggs?fbclid=IwAR0dI44LVqr_JgMGh9wUMGQIMZZ82GdDoPTAqe41QTQqHWb2l0XggB71_gA
Many lichens look similar to the egg masses. If you don’t see little pearl like egg balls inside your scraping, you are probably removing an innocent lichen.