Calling all gardening scouts: Be on the lookout for a national invasive pest, the spotted lanternfly (SLF), Lycorma delicatula, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Institute of Agriculture.

The spotted lanternfly first appeared in the United States in 2014 in Berks County, Pa., just outside of Philadelphia. It is a sap-sucking invasive species of planthopper, which feeds directly on the plant's phloem. Furthermore, it can indirectly cause damage via a mold that grows on honeydew secretions deposited on the leaves and fruits of the host plant.

The pest is native to China and has since spread to other Asian countries. Field studies have revealed that the invasive plant Ailanthus altissima, also known as tree of heaven, is an important host. In addition to tree of heaven, the spotted lanternfly will feed on cultivated grapes, stone fruits (peaches, nectarines, etc.), willow and assorted hardwoods.

Since escaping to Korea in 2004, the pest has used more than 67 host plant species and become a significant pest of grapevines and fruit trees in Korea. For these reasons, it is considered to pose a serious threat to the U.S. horticultural and agricultural industries of viticulture, fruit trees, ornamentals and timber.

SLFs overwinter as egg masses and hatch into nymphs. Nymphs transition through four phases or instars, all of which are wingless and unable to fly. The first three phases appear black with white spots, and tick-like. In the fourth phase they develop red patches on the body. The first nymphs hatch in late April to early May, while adults appear in mid-July.

Adult SLFs have a gray forewing with black spots near their base; the wingtips are black with a series of light gray crossveins. The hindwings are a bright red at the wing base and have an adjacent wing area that is black with a white band. The abdomen is yellow with black bands down the center.

SLF adults begin mating in early fall and form large colonies. They have been most notably observed at this time feeding on tree of heaven, but were also found feeding on grapevines, willows, maples and other tree species. Females lay eggs from late September through October.

Egg masses are typically found near the colonies on tree trunks, limbs, loose bark, and any smooth surface (such as stone, vehicles, trash barrels and outdoor furniture). Egg masses feature a grayish brown mud-like covering, which can become dry and damaged over time. The inch-long masses are arranged in four to seven columns of seed-like eggs, approximately 30-50 eggs in total.

Management is targeted at all stages of the life cycle. Egg masses can be scraped off surfaces where they are found. Sticky bands are effective for trapping nymphs on trees. Adult control is possible by reducing the number of Ailanthus host plants and establishing a trap tree population treated with a systemic insecticide.

Early detection is the best way to limit the spread of the SLF. How can you help? Scout your yard and neighborhood, especially tree of heaven. If you locate a suspect insect or egg case, collect it immediately. To preserve it, place the insect or egg case in a container of alcohol. This will both kill and preserve the insect/egg case for further inspection. Egg cases can also be collected into a sealable plastic bag and killed with hand sanitizer.

Be sure to record the following information about your sample: Date, type of substrate (what surface you found it on; species of tree or structure), the collector’s name, phone number and location (state, county, and address, nearest intersection or GPS coordinates, if available).

In Ohio, you can contact your local Ohio State University Extension Office or Master Gardener Volunteer Program to assist with identification, and notify the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

To learn more, visit https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly.

 

Heather Neikirk is a Stark County Extension Educator in agriculture and natural resources for The Ohio State University (OSU) Extension. If you have questions about healthy food systems, farm to school, food production, small farms, women in agriculture or food gardening, contact her at 330-832-9856 or neikirk.2@osu.edu.