WWith its ruby-red body and polka-dot wings, the spotted lanternfly is objectively beautiful. Despite its good looks, state and federal officials are spreading the same message for managing the invasive species: If you see a spotted lanternfly, pinch it right away.
Left to its own devices, the spotted lanternfly threatens the ecological integrity of the Midwestern and Western United States. Spotted lanternflies threaten our city’s forests, says New York City’s parks department tweeted† “If you see a spotted lanternfly, squeeze it, throw it away and report it to us.”
The latest wave of warnings came after an 11-year-old boy unknowingly displayed a spotted lanternfly as part of his insect collection at the Kansas State Fair. While judging the match, one of the officials recognized the insect as: Lycorma delicatula, an invasive species that farmers in the eastern United States have been battling for years. How the spotted lanternfly made its way to Kansas left state and federal officials worried and scratching their heads. The discovery of a spotted lanternfly in Kansas indicates the invasive species is moving west.
Brittany Campbell, PhD, an entomologist and research scientist for the National Pest Management Association, says that while they won’t bite or sting humans, spotted lanternflies are particularly dangerous to farming communities. Native to China, the first appeared in Pennsylvania in 2014, before spreading along the east coast and as far west as Indiana. Their hunger for fresh produce is matched only by their ability to destroy forests.
“They pose a significant threat to woody and non-woody plants,” she says. “They can also harm the grape, fruit tree and logging industries as they feed on the sap in many trees and plants.”
As their name suggests, spotted lanternflies can in fact fly, but it’s more likely that the winged insect hitchhiked its way to Kansas on a vehicle that carries crops. While state and federal officials are investigating an ongoing possible contamination, Washington Post reported that the boy submitted a “worn and desiccated” dead specimen he found in May, which could have been dead for more than a year.
Still, the warnings are clear: If you see a spotted lanternfly, kill it (and photograph it and put it in a jar of rubbing alcohol if possible). The invasive pest is nothing more than a threat to our ecosystem.
“The distribution of spotted lanternflies will be limited in some states based on climate,” Campbell says. “Models have shown that the spotted lanternfly can establish itself in several mid- and midwestern states that don’t get too hot or too cold for this pest to thrive.”
In addition to killing the bugs, Campbell suggests alerting professionals who can help reduce the risks accordingly. “Check cars and all outdoor equipment regularly [for insects]such as grills, firewood, trees, outdoor furniture, and lawnmowers,” she says. “If you find egg masses in your home, scrape them off and place them in a double bag before tossing them in the trash. You should also contact your local Department of Agriculture to report a sighting and any migration of this invasive species.”
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