Coming soon to a Pennsylvania tree near you: the spotted lanternfly

As far as invasive species go, the spotted lanternfly is a rather gaudy bug that is somewhat pleasing to the eyes with its distinctive coloration.

The bug’s folded wings, when it is resting on tree trunks or any other place they find suitable to pause, are a drab brownish-pink hue with ample spots of black toward the head. The wings end with a layered pattern of black and white on the outside. But when the bug spreads its wings, a second set of smaller back wings show a top section of black and white that ends in a solid blood red that is striking.

By just gazing upon its form and multi-colored appearance, it is hard to imagine the that such a creature is capable of significant havoc and destruction.

A native of China, India and Vietnam, this pest was first confirmed not far from my Berks County home. As so often happens, its arrival was possible because a U.S. based company purchased a product from a foreign country (this case China) that is required to fumigate the product before shipping. Once it arrives on American shores, it is to be sprayed once again at our docks to make certain no unwanted invasive has survived the trip.

Somewhere along the line someone failed to do their required job, hence, an unwanted bug arrives to a new home.

I have dealt with the spotted lanternfly the last two years while archery hunting deer on a mountainside not far from their original escape onto the Pennsylvania landscape. Two trees I often climb as an ambush spot for whitetails have had “bunches” of these bugs scattered on the bark as I’ve scaled upward.

Wearing gloves, I’ve smashed as many of these insects as I could reach until I attained my desired height. In fact, I’ve mauled enough of them that when looking back toward the ground it appeared to be splattered with blood, but was only a grouping of their dead with their distinct red coloration.

After many climbs and uncountable “smashes,” it took a steady run of nights with below freezing temperatures before they finally disappeared for the winter.

First confirmed to be in Berks in September 2014, the area was quickly quarantined, disallowing the movement of wood products, bark products, remodeling and landscaping waste materials, mobile homes, recreational vehicles, stones, grills and boats; basically anything with a flat surface that sits outside.

To date, that quarantine area has increased significantly, and I now see numerous lanternflies around my own home.

Attracted to the paradise tree (also known as the tree of heaven), itself an invasive from Asia, the lanternfly is a serious threat to both the fruit and lumber industry throughout Pennsylvania.

By burrowing into outer bark and draining sap, they open up their hosts to diseases,  infections and other insects that will eventually kill that tree or plant.

Consider that our state has a $21 million grape industry, $24 million stone fruit and $134 million apple business, plus a hardwood commerce that reaches $12 billion in sales yearly, all of which are susceptible to the lanternfly invasion, and you can see the problems facing government organizations attempting to stop this “new bug” now on scene.

Some of the endeavors already underway to stop this bugs spread involve removing and killing the tree and root sections of paradise trees, killing nymphs with sticky bands on trees, and destroying egg masses when found on trees by scraping and insecticides.

Unless a type of spray that hurts no other living thing and can be dispersed over a large area is developed to kill this scourge, I expect the spotted lanternfly will move not only across Pennsylvania, but to other temperate climate states bordering this one.

That’s not a pleasant thought, but it’s something that seems to be happening more and more in the modern world of widespread trade.

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