The spotted lantern fly (SLF) is an invasive, destructive insect that is native to China. Over 70 species of trees in southeastern Pennsylvania and surrounding areas are in danger of disease and death because of these sap-sucking pests.
It’s imperative to seek out and destroy the SLF, as they are predicted to cause a billion dollars in damage to state and private landscapes and agricultural businesses. Early detection is the most effective way to stop the spread of the SLF. Frequent checking of trees and outdoor surfaces throughout the fall is necessary.
Luckily, the SLF does not bite. They jump when frightened, but they can’t harm people and won’t damage homes. Live insects can be destroyed by swatting, using pesticides and putting sticky strips on trees. The egg masses should be scraped off all surfaces. They must be popped or drenched in isopropyl alcohol to be completely destroyed.
Fall is the time to look for and destroy SLF egg masses. The insects lay their eggs in fall and they hatch in winter or early spring.
Check any and all flat surfaces outdoors. This includes tree trunks, rocks, and patio furniture. The egg masses can be small, sometimes the size of a dime, and the masses are typically no longer than the size of your palm. They are usually oblong and odd in shape and are light tan or gray in color. Freshly-laid masses seem like a splotch of mud or dirt. In the winter, the masses may look like cracked mud. Strips of old eggs may be near to fresh masses, laid in a brick pattern and look like short, articulated worms.
To destroy the new splotches and the old strips, scrape the egg mass with an old credit card. Watch this video for the right technique.
These tiny, jumping bugs are black with white spots. They start out at a few millimeters long but grow to 1/4 inch. They will jump at you if they are frightened. They like new tree and plant growth, so look for them on stems and new leaves. They are tiny, so think ant-sized.
Late stage nymph
The bugs take on a bright red color in this stage. Their backs are bright red and have black stripes and white spots. They are even stronger jumpers at this stage. They are about 1/2 inch long.
Adult, wings closed and open
The flies are about 1 inch long as adult insects. They have six big legs, two brown wings with black spots and black-patterned tips. In the first adult stage, the wings will be closed and tight to the body. In the second stage, they wings are spread, revealing sub-wings that are red with black spots and white striped with black tips.
The ailanthus tree, known as the tree-of-heaven, is the SLF’s preferred snack. It is a rapidly growing, invasive plant from China that has been growing in US urban, country and wooded areas since 1784.
The tree-of-heaven tree can look like a black walnut or hickory tree, but unlike those trees, its leaves are smooth with no “teeth.” If you have a tree-of-heaven tree in your yard, check it first for the insects. Fall is the time to check the bark and branches for the egg masses. Other favorite snacks: walnut trees and grape vines. But look for the SLF on any hardwood tree as they will move on if they don’t find their first preference.
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