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The spotted lantern fly takeover and how to keep them away


By Elizabeth Perry


There is good news and bad news about the spotted lantern fly invasion which was predicted last year.


The bad news is the invasive pests which originated from China, Japan and Vietnam have become endemic to Pennsylvania this year.


However, the species is less destructive to most plants than scientists feared.


Integrated Pest Management Specialist at Phipps Botanical Gardens, Braley Burke, said the pests may kill grape vines, small saplings and plants that are already stressed, but for the most part they’ve been shown to cause less damage to plants than expected.


On the negative side, the creatures drink sap from the plants and then excrete a tacky substance Burke called “honeydew” which can lead to sooty mold, which sticks to plants and prevents photosynthesis.


“They make sticky messes,” Burke said.

Sooty mold can also stain, said Burke who recommends against poisoning the prolific pests, as that could kill the birds, mammals and other insects which have been feasting on the creatures. Pesticides could also hang around polluting the environment for a very long time. Household chemicals are also a bad idea; cleaners like Pine-Sol and bleach are not effective.


“There are natural predators out there,” Burke said, which was a very positive development in the possible management of the bugs.


If a plant is absolutely stressed and needs to be saved, Burke recommended Neem oil or insecticidal soap to control the red, spotted pests. She warned that these treatments take up to 48 hours to destroy the bugs, so don’t be discouraged if one should fly off after getting doused.


“Horticulture oil is not effective,” Burke said.


The most effective way of controlling the lantern fly epidemic is to keep them from spreading to other areas and to kill egg sacs before they hatch.


The sacs tend to look like a smear of putty initially, then dry to resemble a splash of mud or bird droppings. They don’t have the texture of mud; instead, the egg sacs are very sticky.


Burke recommends scraping them off of surfaces, then dousing them in isopropyl alcohol. Residents should also check vehicles to prevent the spread, according to Penn State’s Spotted Lantern Fly Management Guide.


They recommend making circle traps around the base of trees, because the spotted lantern flies crawl up the trunks of trees rather than flying.


A circle trap is like a modified funnel, and can be purchased or made with the help of the guide.


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