The spotted lanternfly hit my radar when Wellfield sent our horticulture staff to a workshop on plant pests and diseases in Louisville, KY in Spring of 2022. Speakers at the event emphasized the wide range of host plants this particular lanternfly could feed on, the damage it’s doing in infested areas, and how unencumbered its spread has been. Since then, my colleagues and I have been checking for eggs, instars, and adult spotted lanternflies as the seasons have progressed. It has also given us extra motivation to remove all Tree of Heaven, the spotted lanternfly’s preferred host plant, that we have seen popping up in our gardens at Wellfield.
What is it?
The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is an invasive plant hopper native to China. The spotted Lanternfly’s preferred host plant, Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is also an invasive species that has become a problem in North America. Unfortunately, while Tree of Heaven may be its preferred host, the spotted lanternfly can feed on over 100 species of plants. Spotted lanternfly was first detected in Pennsylvania in September 2014, and has since been confirmed in 15 states. I wouldn’t say these pests are moving our way because they’re already here. Currently there have been sightings near us in Huntington County IN, Switzerland County IN, and Oakland County MI.
Photos: Egg Laying, Hatch and 1st Instar, 2nd Instar, Adults: Emelie Swackhamer, Penn State University, Bugwood.org; Eggs: Lawrence Barringer, PA Dept. of Agriculture, Bugwood.org; 3rd Instar: Dalton Ludwick, USDA-ARS/Virginia Tech; 4th Instar: Richard Gardner, Bugwood.org.
What’s the Threat?
The spotted lanternfly poses a serious economic threat to multiple industries in this country, including viticulture, fruit trees, ornamentals and timber. Damage includes oozing sap, wilting, leaf curling, and dieback in trees, vines, crops, and many other plants. Unfortunately, the damage doesn’t stop there. They excrete a sugary substance called honeydew which can grow sooty mold. Sooty mold is a fungus that can stress the tree or host plant, leaving them vulnerable to other diseases and pests. It can also disrupt photosynthesis further diminishing the growth and health of the tree. On top of the destructive potential to industry, these invasive lanternflies pose an ecological threat as well. Harm done to native trees and forests could destroy habitats for many birds, mammals and reptiles. Ultimately, this small insect has the potential to cause a massive disruption in ecosystems and industries here in Indiana.
What can you do?
The spotted lanternfly has potential to spread broadly, and with its ability to feed on such a wide range of plants makes it difficult to mitigate.
There are tangible actions we can take to collaborate and help keep these pests at bay. Learning how to identify the Spotted Lanternfly is key. This insect looks very different at its many stages. Beyond the adult form, educating yourself and others on what their egg masses and larvae can assist in identification. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources asks all residents to report any Spotted Lanternfly sightings. Anyone who suspects that they have found this insect should photograph it and send the image and location to DEPP@dnr.in.gov or call 1-866-No-Exotic. Additionally, learning how to identify and eradicate the invasive Tree of Heaven can help mitigate the spread.