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Everything You Need to Know About the Spotted Lanternfly

Spotted Lanternfly
Spotted Lanternfly - Photo: Ekkehard Wachmann

The Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is an invasive insect pest that poses a significant threat to our landscape trees, shrubs and garden plants. Originating from Asia, this pest was first detected in Pennsylvania in 2014, and has quickly spread across several states. Spotted Lanternfly can cause severe damage to a wide range of woody and herbaceous plants. This article provides an in-depth understanding of the impact of the Spotted Lanternfly infestation and how it can be managed effectively.

Identification and Biology of Spotted Lanternfly

Spotted Lanternfly Eggs on Tree

Spotted Lanternfly is not a fly, but a “planthopper”, and is found in the Family Fulgoridae.  It is actually a much stronger hopper than it is a flyer. Spotted Lanternfly adults lay their eggs in September & October and these eggs overwinter until the following spring. Egg sacs are commonly laid on the bark of Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) but can also be laid on any smooth barked tree, or smooth surface (e.g. patio stones, outdoor furniture etc), spotted lanternfly eggs on cars is even a common occurrence. Egg sacs may house up to 30-50 brown, seed-like eggs deposited in vertical rows. The egg sacs are covered in a grey, smooth protective covering that protects them from the elements.

Spotted Lanternfly eggs hatch in April and May the following year, giving rise to the immature stage called “nymphs”. Nymphs go through four growth phases (instars) before becoming a winged adult in late summer. Nymphs in the first 3 instars are black with white spots. The last nymph instar is black and red with white spots. These red and black nymphs have stronger beaks and can be found feeding on woody tissue while younger nymph stages have weaker beaks and feed mainly on herbaceous plants.

Nymphs will sit with their head raised higher than their body, and hop around, almost like a little frog. Spotted Lanternflies have a long beak and feed by inserting their beak into plant tissue and suck out plant sap. Nymphs and adults tend to congregate in large numbers on the host plant, either at the base of the tree or in the canopy.

Adult lanternflies have grayish forewings with black spots which are the main wings visible when the insect is at rest. In flight, the hind wings are visible with their bright red coloration and black spots. Adults are active in September and October. Females measure about 25 mm in length and males about 20 mm.

Plant Hosts Favored by Spotted Lanternfly

Spotted Lantern Fly Infestation of Adults on side of a TreeThe Spotted Lanternfly has a wide host range, including grapes, stone fruits, apples and even hops. Their favorite tree hosts include:

  • Walnut (Juglans),
  • Maple (Acer)
  • Poplar (Populus)
  • Willow (Salix)
  • Apple (Malus)
  • Mulberry (Morus)
  • Stone Fruit (Prunus)
  • Lilac (Syringa)
  • Staghorn Sumac (Rhus)
  • Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus)
  • Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

In late summer, adults are attracted to Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) to feed on, collect in large mating colonies and lay their eggs. 

Spotted Lanternfly Damage

Feeding Damage

  • Nymphs feed on foliage and young stems by inserting their beak into the tissue and sucking out plant sap causing tissues to become stunted or killed
  • Adults congregate on the sides of trees, sucking plant sap through their beaks and shedding excrement (honeydew) on any surfaces below.  Honeydew promotes the growth of sooty mold, affecting the health of underlying plants and making areas unattractive.

Economic Impact

  • The Spotted Lanternfly feeds on a wide range of plants, including grapes, apples, hops, and various types of hardwood trees. Their feeding damage has a direct impact on plant growth and marketability.
  • Spotted Lanternfly infestation also affects the forestry industry, as the pest is attracted to many forest tree species, reducing their growth and health.

Environmental Impact

  • The Spotted Lanternfly has the potential to alter ecosystems by outcompeting native species and disrupting food chains.
  • The pest excretes a sugary substance known as “honeydew”, which promotes the growth of sooty mold, affecting the health of plants and making areas unattractive.
  • The infestation can also lead to a decline in biodiversity, as the pest feeds on a wide range of host plants.

Spotted Lanternfly Detections

Spotted Lanternfly Reported Distribution Map June 6, 2023The Spotted Lanternfly was first detected in Pennsylvania in 2014 and unfortunately, has successfully overwintered and spread since then to many other states include New York, Ohio and Maine. Although it has not been detected in Ontario, government authorities are surveying actively for this invasive insect pest.

Management of Spotted Lanternfly

  • Lycorma DelicatulaSpotted Lanternfly has NOT been detected in Ontario. Early detection and reporting are crucial. Photograph and report any signs of the Spotted Lanternfly to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or CONTACT US with your photos. Early detection has the greatest probability of eradicating this damaging plant pest.
  • Spotted Lanternfly Treatment: insecticides are registered in Canada to protect agricultural crops
  • Biological control: This involves the use of natural enemies, such as parasitic wasps, to control the pest population. Research is ongoing to identify effective biological control agents.
  • Egg masses can be manually removed and destroyed in fall and winter
  • Prevention: Quarantine regulations have been put in place in several states and at the Canadian border to prevent the spread of the Spotted Lanternfly. This involves restricting the movement of certain items from infested areas.

In conclusion, the Spotted Lanternfly infestation poses a significant threat to agriculture and the environment. With effective prevention and management strategies, it is possible to mitigate the spread of this pest and reduce its impacts.

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A Guide to Everything You Need to Know About the Spotted Lanternfly

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