Dealing with Spotted Lanternfly in Pennsylvania

Chances are, you really value the trees and shrubs that you have in your landscape. They not only add aesthetic appeal but they might have additional benefits such as shade, privacy, and even an emotional connection.

That’s why you want to do what you can to protect your investment. Understanding the different pests that are out there and what kind of risk they may pose to your landscape is important.

The Spotted Lanternfly in Pennsylvania is definitely one such threat that should be on your radar.

You may have already heard of it as this pest is now being found in our region has raised a lot of concern. This invasive species pose a major threat to our local agriculture and forestry—as well as the trees in your own backyard.

The Lifecycle of the Spotted Lanternfly in PA

There is one generation of this pest per year. The Spotted Lanternfly overwinters in egg masses that are laid on a hard surface and hatch some time in May. The emerging nymphs (immature versions of the adults) will then feed on host plants throughout their development, making this insect a threat at all stages of its life. 

This is an insect that has a gradual metamorphosis as the nymphs undergo four stages (“instars”) before fully maturing. Unlike some moths with a complete metamorphosis, this pest doesn’t have a larval (caterpillar) stage. Spotted Lanternfly nymph on leafDuring the time the nymphs develop, they look quite different from the adult version of the pest. The first, second, and third instars are black with white spots. However, during the final stage (the fourth instar), this pest develops red patches over the black and white spots.

Typically by July these pests have grown to be considered mature adults, but are described as weak fliers (even though they do have wings). The Spotted Lanternfly is classified as a “planthopper,” meaning it doesn’t fly long distances at a time but instead travels from one plant to another close by. It is a strong jumper and often does hop from location to location, more than it flies.

Identifying the Adult Spotted Lanternfly in Pennsylvania

The Spotted Lanternfly is native to China, India, and Vietnam but was first discovered in Berks County in 2014. Since then it has been reported in other areas of the state, including the Lehigh Valley, making it important to stay on top of the threat since it’s right here in our backyard.

The adult Spotted Lanternfly is easy to identify with its distinct patterns and colors. Its forewings are gray with black spots while its wing tips feature black blocks outlined in gray. The hind wings have contrasting patches of red and black and its abdomen is yellow. Spotted Lanternfly colors and patternsAs an adult, this pest is a sizable insect at approximately one-inch long. In addition, the adults have piercing mouthparts used to suck the sap out of trees and shrubs.

Spotted Lanternfly Host Plants

In its native region, this pest’s preferred tree is Ailanthus altissima, or “Tree of Heaven,” which is commonly found in China. However, since turning up in the United States, the Spotted Lanternfly host plants list has grown. It’s been estimated that this pest a risk to as much as $18 billion worth of agricultural commodities produced in Pennsylvania, including fruits and hardwoods.

Unfortunately, this pest has also proven to feed on trees commonly found in residential landscapes.

Spotted Lanternflies on Tree

These include (but are not limited to) some of the following trees.

  • Maple
  • Birch
  • Oak
  • Pine
  • Poplar
  • Sycamore
  • Walnut
  • Willow

Early feeding by the nymphs can cause localized damage, stunted growth, and reduced production. In addition, when this insect feeds on a tree, the tree will develop weeping wounds dripping with sap, which will attract other insects to the site including ants and wasps. In time, sooty mold will grow on that excreted sap, turning leaves, stems, and tree trunks black.

These are some telltale signs that you have a tree in your backyard which is infested. In fact, you may notice some of these signs before you spot a pest. If you notice sooty mold or a sudden influx of wasps or ants within your tree, it’s important to investigate further as early intervention is key.

How to Avoid Spreading the Spotted Lanternfly in PA and Beyond

While most tree-feeding insects lay their eggs on the plant tissues they’re feeding on, the Spotted Lanternfly is quite different in this regard. It’s been discovered that this pest  will lay its eggs anywhere—your outdoor furniture, your home’s siding, on rocks, or maybe even the bumper of your car.

This is also what makes them so troublesome. If one of these insects lays its eggs on your car and you travel outside of your area, you could spread the pest to areas that have not yet been infested. Before going anywhere it is advised that you perform a quick search of your vehicle to check for egg masses, which look a lot like a splash of grayish colored mud.

It is advised that the eggs are crushed and put in a sealed bag with rubbing alcohol. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has requested that all crushed egg masses be reported on their website or emailed to, particularly if you are in a region where this pest is not known to exist. There is strong effort underway to better understand this pest and where it is turning up.

Spotted Lanternfly Control

The Spotted Lanternfly has proven to be difficult to control. For one, there is just not a lot of information known about the species yet and it is still being studied.

Interestingly, researchers have not yet found a list of predators to this pest. Birds don’t appear to like to eat them. However, it’s recently been discovered that the Praying Mantis will eat them. Even so, there has not yet been a natural predator making enough of an impact on reducing this invasive species.

spraying trees for Spotted LanternflyIf you spot one, you should kill it by squashing it. Some of our clients say they use a fly swatter and this has proven effective as long as you can catch it in time. The Spotted Lanternfly is also known for being quick. While they are large and may be “creepy” to get close to, there have been no reports of a human being bit by this pest.

Sticky tree bands, which capture the young nymphs (in the earlier stage of the life cycle, while they are still small enough to be held down) have also proven to be effective. But in this case, it’s critical that they’re caught early as the bands are usually not strong enough to hold adults. Sticky bands are typically placed about 4 feet from the bottom of the tree and secured with a pin.

There are also some contact control products that can also help reduce this pest’s population. At Joshua Tree, we take a multi-product approach that is highly targeted to your landscape.

Education on Spotted Lanternfly in Pennsylvania

Your choice of tree care companies in Allentown, Bethlehem, or Easton, PA could make a big difference in how (and if) Spotted Lanternfly affects your property. That’s because a tree care company that has an ongoing eye on your trees is more likely to spot this problem early on and before it becomes a major infestation.

It’s also important to note that this specific pest is not necessarily on everyone’s radar. While there is still not an abundance of information on the pest, you want to find a company that is working to understand everything they can about this insect and how to deal with it.

At Joshua Tree, we feel strongly about the responsibility that comes with being a tree care company and feel it is our duty to educate and inform Lehigh Valley property owners about this invasive pest. It is also our responsibility to remain continually updated on the latest research and treatment options as it evolves. There constantly seems to be new information emerging about this invasive pest and we are committed to staying on top of it.

The Spotted Lanternfly is just one of dozens of common pests that could affect your trees and shrubs. A tree health care program will protect your trees not only from this insect, but many others as well. By choosing to work with a company that is committed to having your landscape’s best interest at heart, including protection from new and emerging threats, you can feel more confident that your investment in your landscape is safe.

If you’re interested in having a complimentary evaluation of the trees at your Allentown, Bethlehem, or Easton, PA home or learning more about our Spotted Lanternfly control services, we can help put your mind at ease.

Learn More About Our Spotted Lanternfly Control  Program & Pricing

Image sources: Spotted Lanternfly on stone, Spotted Lanternfly nymph, Spotted Lanternfly patternsSpotted Lanternflies on tree, Fly swatte

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