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The Wingspan

What are Spotted Lanternflies? Are they dangerous?

Photo by: Peter L. Coffey, University of Maryland Extension (2017-2021)
Photo by: Peter L. Coffey, University of Maryland Extension (2017-2021)

In Oct. 2018, reddish, spotted bugs entered Cecil County and invaded Maryland from corner to corner. The Spotted Lanternfly, or Lycorma Delicatula, is an invasive sap-feeding insect native to many parts of eastern Asia, including China. They were first detected in the United States in central Pennsylvania in early 2014. It was believed that egg masses had been laid on stones in China and then shipped to Pennsylvania. 

The Spotted Lanternfly feeds on numerous plants, including apples, hops, grapes and the “tree of heaven,” another invasive species. Unlike a bee or mosquito, it does not sting or bite, and primarily feeds on plants, especially in vineyards. The insect is well known for creating a sugary waste substance called honeydew. This attracts other insects and even leads to sooty mold on furniture, which cannot be removed. The insect squirts the honeydew similar to how a water gun spews water.

According to the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) and University of Maryland Extensions (UME), there has been a quarantine order for 19 counties, including Baltimore City, to report sightings of the Spotted Lanternfly directly to MDA. The UME recommends that residents pursue both biological and chemical control measures when necessary. Chemical control includes spraying insecticides and biological control could be killing eggs and the developed insect. 

Professor William Lamp in the Department of Entomology at UMD explained that the Spotted Lanternfly populations started with the laying of eggs by females in the fall; these eggs can be laid on plants and trees, especially on tree trunks and branches and even on stones. However, they are not limited to these spaces and can lay anywhere, including car bumpers and anything that moves, so they are effortless to transport. After the eggs are laid, they usually survive throughout the winter before hatching in May. When the nymphs first hatch, they’re all black and small but jump like jumping beans and are extremely hard to catch. They have an exoskeleton, meaning that they have to mold in order to grow. The insects shed their skin to grow to the next size, so they go through several instars before they become adults. As they grow, they change in coloration just a little bit and develop more red spots until their last instar, where they are bright red. 

While many sources suggest killing them, Lamp suggested otherwise. “You could kill 100 of them, and you’re not going to affect the population really at all … so it’s kind of a waste of time. If it makes you feel better, fine, but otherwise, it’s really not of any value.”

Predators usually avoid the Spotted Lanternfly because of their aposematic coloration, meaning that they taste bad. While natural predators are harder to come by, various organizations, including UME, are looking into insecticides to kill them and also eliminate the tree of heaven. Other research that is currently being conducted includes West Virginia University’s initiative to implement drones to detect the insects. Because West Virginia is such a big forested state, researchers can’t even figure out exactly where they are, so they’re using drones to assist with the location of those insects. 

“Overall, they’re pretty harmless, except for the fact that they do spray the sugary stuff on you, but they’re pretty harmless, and they are beautiful, and they have an interesting life cycle,” Lamp reassured. 

Ultimately, the UME and MDA’s shared efforts in addressing the issue demonstrated a commitment to protecting Maryland’s agricultural and natural resources from pests. Residents are encouraged to report if they see any form of spotted lantern fly directly by phone at 410-841-590 or via email at [email protected]


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