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Why You Need to Worry About Spotted Lanternfly

Why You Need to Worry about Spotted Lanternfly

The Spotted Lanternfly is a new pest that has invaded our area.  These beautiful but nasty bugs are swarming Pennsylvania in concerning numbers. First spotted in 2014, Penn State’s Agriculture Extension has been monitoring the Spotted Lanternfly and issuing warnings about this invasive insect. They’re a problem for local farmers who are losing fruit and timber crops to the insects’ voracious appetite. However, homeowners are also seeing impacts that range from annoying to significant damage.  The experts at Giroud show how to spot the Spotted Lanternfly, why they’re more than just a nuisance pest, and how you can help in the fight against these insects.

Spotted Lanternfly are attracted to Tree of Life Ailanthus Altissima

How this Insect Affects Trees

The Spotted Lanternfly feeds primarily on the Tree of Heaven, which is common throughout our region. Unfortunately, these flies also swarm many other types of trees, including Black Walnuts, Maples, Apples, Willows, and many more. According to the PA Department of Agriculture, they attack more than 70 species of trees, and 25 of them are found in Pennsylvania.

At this point, it’s hard to determine the long term damage to trees. Emeilie Swackhamer, Penn State Horticulture Director, has been following the Spotted Lanternfly and monitoring infested trees for 3 years. She explains in an informational YouTube video that while it’s still too early to say what the long-term effects will be, the insects are definitely causing significant die-back and defoliating branches in trees. However, there are other concerns you should be aware of.

How Spotted Lanternfly Causes Property Damage

These insects eat tree sap and then excrete droppings of a sweet, sticky substance called Honeydew. The honeydew will coat the tree, the base of the tree, and anything underneath the tree, including cars, hardscapes and decking. Then, black, sooty mold grows on the secreted substance. The combination of honeydew and black, sooty mold has an unpleasantly sour stench and is very difficult to remove from surfaces.

Protect your family from the stinging wasps that spotted lanterfly attractHow the Spotted Lanternfly Attracts Dangerous Insects

Even more unsettling, the secreted honeydew attracts stinging wasps! Wasps can’t resist the tantalizing smell of the honeydew, and they will swarm your property for a taste. Homeowners are struggling to rid their yards of stinging wasps, and it’s particularly a problem for children playing in the area!

Knowing How to Identify the Spotted Lanterfly

One of the things that makes this insect difficult to control is the fact that it goes through several identities during it’s life cycle. Adult females lay eggs in the fall, and they go to great lengths to cover the egg masses in a secretion that dries hard and camouflages to look like dirt or clay. The young nymphs that emerge from the eggs in spring are black with white spots. In early summer, they gain red markings on their bodies. Then, midsummer they become adults and shed their skin to form wings on their backs.

These wings are their true tell tale, with bright red markings on a background of black, white and beige patterns. However, when the adults are at rest or feeding on tree sap, their signature red marks are hidden underneath their folded wings making them more difficult to identify.

Why You Need to worry about Spotted Lanternfly Life Cycle

How You Can Help Stop the Spread of this Invasive Insect

It is going to take a statewide effort to combat the spread of this insect. Awareness is the first step!

“We are fully prepared to combat the Spotted Lanternfly,” says Matt Giroud, Director of Field Operations at Giroud Tree & Lawn. “We are prepped and ready to treat these trees. The challenge is making the community aware of the problem.”

Signs of Spotted Lanternfly honeydew black sooty mold eggs egg massesHere are some measures we can all take together to keep Spotted Lanternfly from taking over:

  • Destroy any eggs and coated egg masses. One female Spotted Lanternfly can lay up to 100 eggs! You can easily scrape them off and put them into a bag with rubbing alcohol to kill them.
  • Always check benches, stones, firewood, and anything else before moving them. Spotted Lanterfly will lay eggs on any smooth surface, particularly the undersides where the egg masses are better protected from predators. Scrape off any suspicious masses and destroy them so that you don’t inadvertently relocate and spread the insect population.
  • Look for eggs, egg masses, honeydew secretions, black, sooty mold and swarms of wasps. If you see any of these, have an ISA Certified Arborist inspect your trees!


Want to learn more about Spotted Lanternfly? Check out Penn State Extension’s informative video for info on how to identify the insect, and what to do if you find them or evidence of them:

Author: Jeanne Hafner

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  • Judith Rifkin

    Have fourthstar stage lanternflies in our garden on the sunflower…
    What should we do…

    • Jeanne Hafner

      Hi Judith! You should kill any lanternfly you see, and then report your sighting to the PA Department of Agriculture here: https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly-ipm-management-calendar
      We can also schedule a free property inspection and our arborist can make recommendations for treating your property against Spotted Lanternfly. Someone from our office will contact you to see if you’d like to set that up. Thanks for your comment!