As the festive season rolls in, it’s understandable that you’re also looking to bring a Christmas tree into your home. But what if I told you that you could have your home infested with bugs as a result? It’s not exactly a happy thought, but there’s a possibility you might be bringing spotted lanternflies into your place of residence. Not only is the alien invader bug capable of ruining your Christmas tree, but it can also ruin your Christmas experience by infesting your home and garden.
These red and black spotted lanternflies are winged insects native to China. However, they’ve found their way to the United States in recent years, and the Department of Agriculture has issued a notice for everyone to kill these alien bugs on sight. The coming Christmas season is an opportunity for these insects to spread further into different parts of the country. So, whether you’re cutting your trees or buying them for Christmas, you must look out for these alien invader bugs and get rid of them.
What To Look Out For
You’re unlikely to see these insects buzzing around the tree you intend to take home for Christmas. If you did, you wouldn’t be taking it home. So, what you’re looking for isn’t a flying or crawling insect. It’s a mass of eggs laid on the tree. Look out for strange gray blobs on the bark of the tree. These gray blobs are clusters of eggs, each containing between 30 and 50 eggs of these invasive alien flies.
Before now, the spotted lanternfly, Lycorma delicatula, spread from its native habitat in China to Korea and throughout Southeast Asia before finding its way to the United States. Although not considered harmful to humans and animals (pets), this fly is destructive and can feed on more than 70 types of vegetation, including apples, hops, grapes, and almonds. Many other trees, such as maple and oak, are also vulnerable to spotted lanternflies, gathering in mass to feast on their chosen host. Like the other 70 crops they target, your Christmas tree is also vulnerable to these invader bugs.
Already, these bugs have proven to be a menace in the United States. Some parts of the country have been quarantined in the past or are under quarantine due to the infestation of the spotted lanternfly. Last year, the media reported a woman who had her home in Warren County infested by these flies after two masses of spotted lanternfly eggs on her Christmas tree hatched.
Host Plants of the Alien Invader Bug
Although spotted lanternflies can mess up your Christmas, that’s only one of several reasons to be worried about them. The insect is an agricultural threat as it generally feeds on more than 70 species of herbaceous plants, including vines and large trees. They have a varied diet that includes pretty much any plant they can find. They do have some preferred plants but will eat anything as they move around in search of these preferred hosts. The tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is the most preferred host of this ruinous insect. However, they also prefer grapes, black walnut trees, maple, and hops.
The feeding behavior of this insect tends to vary from one life stage to the other. In the first and second instars, their beak is not strong enough to penetrate into woody plants. Thus, they tend to attack annual and perennial plants in this stage. By the fourth instar, the nymph’s beak will be strong enough to penetrate hard woody trees and older perennials.
Which Cities Have Been Infested by the Alien Invader Bug?
Spotted lanternfly infestations have been reported in various counties around the Delaware River, with smaller populations in other counties. In the past, some counties, such as Hunterdon, Camden, Warren, Somerset, Salem, and Gloucester, have also been quarantined because of these flies.
The first time these flies were seen in the US was in 2014, in Berks County, Pennsylvania. However, a map released by the New York State’s Integrated Pest Management Program shows that the spotted lanternflies have been reported in many other states, including New York, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Virginia.
These destructive bugs attack their host trees by sucking the sap out of it, piercing through the tree’s bark with their sharp mouths. The feeding activities of this insect causes oozing sap, wilting or curling leaf, dieback in trees, and other forms of damage.
This bad fly does not just destroy your tree because it feeds on it. It also opens the door for other insects to do damage. As the sap starts to seep out from the parts they feed on, it attracts other insects, including bugs that are harmful to humans, like wasps, hornets, bees, and ants. They also excrete honeydew and leave it behind on their host plant. This becomes moldy and eventually kills the plant they attack.
What Do Spotted Lanternflies Look Like?
Spotted lanternflies typically lay their eggs on smooth surfaces. Once it hatches, it’s first a black nymph with several white spots. This is the early nymph stage. By the time it transitions into the late nymph stage, the color also changes to red with white spots. This is the last stage before adulthood. The adult spotted lanternfly is usually about one inch long and half-inch wide. There are contrasting patches of black and red with white bands on the hind wings. The head and legs are black, while the abdomen is yellow with broad black bands. They mostly flourish in warm weather. Female spotted lanternflies lay about 30 to 50 egg masses at once, and they mostly hatch in April if they survive the winter.
How To Deal With Spotted Lanternflies
If you find an egg mass of spotted lanternflies, scrape them off the spot you’ve found with a credit card or cardboard piece, put them in a double bag, and throw them away. This is a good way to destroy the eggs of this alien invader bug. You can also destroy them by dropping them in alcohol, hand sanitizer, or bleach.
Also, if you’re cutting yourself a Christmas tree or buying one for the festive seasons, ensure you shake the trees thoroughly. This will help you eliminate excess needles and insects, like lanternflies, spiders, and praying mantises. It might also be good to stand your tree up and place them outside overnight. This way, some of these unwanted insects fall off the tree outside, and you don’t bring them into your home.
People in several states in the US have raised concerns about their homes getting infested by these invader bugs. So, it’s best to buy your Christmas tree within your state to avoid the possibility of introducing this alien insect into your house, especially if your state isn’t on the list of infested cities.
Those traveling across states this season (especially to New Jersey and Pennsylvania) might need to get permits to show that they understand the precautions for preventing the spread of this insect. Also, if you find federal and state survey and treatment crews on your property, you should allow them to conduct their activities without disturbance.
Again, it’s extremely important that you’re vigilant when bringing your Christmas tree into your home or garden to prevent the inadvertent introduction of this alien invader bug. This is even more important if you’re living in a state or location on the list of infested areas. Ensure to check your vehicles each time you want to go out. This is primarily how they move from one city or state to another. They can lay their eggs in areas of your vehicle that are hard to spot, and you could help spread them.
There’s a checklist available online that lists things that you should examine thoroughly for signs of spotted lanternfly eggs. According to the checklist, you should check for egg masses, nymphs and adult spotted lanternflies regularly and only move items you’re sure aren’t infested to prevent spreading to other areas. Some items you should check include the following:
- camping/recreational items like campers and bicycles
- building materials like cinder blocks and bricks
- outdoor household items like trash cans and firewood
- garden and yard items like lawnmowers and barbecue grills
- children’s play toys like scooters and bicycles
If you find a spotted lanternfly in your home, you should squash it or get rid of it right away. You should also report the discovery tothe U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or any other appropriate authorities. The information you provide will be valuable to track the spread of this insect across the country.
More from A-Z Animals
The Featured Image
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.
- Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Available here: https://www.agriculture.pa.gov/Plants_Land_Water/PlantIndustry/Entomology/spotted_lanternfly/SpottedLanternflyAlert/Pages/default.aspx
- USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Available here: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/resources/pests-diseases/hungry-pests/the-threat/spotted-lanternfly/spotted-lanternfly
- PennState Extension, Available here: https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly
- Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Available here: https://cals.cornell.edu/new-york-state-integrated-pest-management/outreach-education/whats-bugging-you/spotted-lanternfly/spotted-lanternfly-biology-and-lifecycle