If you see a beautiful spotted lanternfly, report it – then squash it | The edge

The invasive bug fears environmental officials in Massachusetts could spread and cause real agricultural and ecological damage

Not too many bugs are more destructive than the Lycorma delicatula, better known as the spotted lanternfly. An invasive pest native to Asia, it first arrived in the United States seven years ago. It is a threat to trees, plants, crops, orchards, vineyards and even jobs. And if that wasn’t bad enough, it secretes a coarse residue known as “honeydew” that can turn into mold, drip sticky substances onto cars and patios, and become dangerously slippery to step on—and it stinks. just as his scent hits your nostrils.

Charming, right? If that sounds like the kind of insect you just want to squash, many wildlife enthusiasts would say… go ahead. Environmentalists are so concerned about the damage the spotted lanternfly can do to local ecosystems, in some places the public is being advised to kill the insects as soon as they see them. as the New York Times wrote in a headline, “Die, pretty spotted lanternfly, die.” And in Pennsylvania, residents are told, “Kill it! Crush it, mash it, just throw it away.”

So when live adult spotted lanternflies were spotted in Fitchburg, Massachusetts in September — a dozen states have now reported infestations — Jennifer Forman Orth, an environmental biologist with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, who earned a master’s degree in energy and environmental studies from Boston University, was suddenly besieged with questions about this invasive bug.

The edge spoke to Forman Orth about this particular bug, her personal interest in all bugs, and what to do if we think we’ve spotted a dreaded spotted lanternfly.


with Jennifer Forman Ortho

The edge: It is not the first time that the spotted lanternfly has been spotted in these regions. Why was this discovery more alarming?

Forman Orth: There are now about a dozen different reports since 2018. But they are usually dead, after being hitched on a vehicle or on goods that have been landed. This is the first time we spot an active breeding population. They were observed laying eggs, live adults, in roadside trees in Fitchburg.

The edge: So breeding is a big problem. But why? How can such a bug be so threatening?

Forman Orth: There are two main reasons why we are concerned. One of these is the threat to agriculture. The lanternfly’s favorite host tree is the tree of heaven. That’s growing all over the Boston area and other metropolitan areas. It is an invasive species. But it also attacks vines, maples, walnut trees and dozens of plants important to natural ecosystems across the state. There is also concern, in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, that these lantern flies gather by the thousands where the infestations are heaviest. They feed on plants and then excrete this honeydew. It gets sticky and it’s dirty, and that attracts mold and can be slippery and you have safety issues. It can also attract stinging insects and make it dangerous for people with allergies.

The edge: Is the big concern that they are moving from less densely populated areas to more densely populated urban areas?

Forman Orth: It’s not about moving them to urban areas. The point is that they have different roads to Massachusetts. They prefer the tree of heaven, and in urban areas they will tend to congregate there. But we also worry about places like vineyards.

The edge: How do you prevent them from spreading?

Forman Orth: The best way to slow the spread is for us to achieve early detection. People need to learn to recognize them and report something as soon as they find it.

The edge: Is that what happened in Fitchburg?

Forman Orth: Our inspector completed an investigation within a radius of nearly two miles around the infected trees. And no other lanternflies found. We have treated the trees in this one highly contaminated area and they will be felled. I’m cautiously optimistic we won’t find any more in Fitchburg.

But I’m not sure we can ever say we’ll eradicate the spotted lanternfly. It will be under constant pressure for decades. But if we can stop or slow its spread, that’s helpful.

The edge: And if we don’t stop the spread, can you help us understand their potential impact? I read that Pennsylvania plagues cause economic losses of $50 million each year and hundreds of jobs have been lost due to crop destruction. That’s serious.

Forman Orth: I know we don’t have many vineyards in Massachusetts, but we care about protecting them. But cucumber plants and roses are also at risk, just like other plants. And grapes. There is potentially a significant impact on any farmer, garden, nursery or really anyone trying to grow healthy plants. There is also a lot of concern about the potential impact on agritourism and outdoor recreation.

The edge: Do I know one when I see one? Is it so obvious because of their distinct red and black color?

Forman Orth: You must see the photos on our website. We still get reports that people think they are butterflies. They send in pictures of butterflies. While spotted lanternflies have a striking appearance, the color and pattern of their wings actually make for great camouflage against a tree’s bark. It’s hard to see just one on a tree; it somehow belongs.

The edge: Is there anything else that sets them apart?

Forman Orth: These are big bugs. They are large compared to other insects we see here. They do fly. I’ve seen reports saying they don’t. They have wings and can certainly fly.

The edge: Okay, let’s just say I see one. What should I do? Says your department outright, kill the spotted lanternfly! Or are you not being so dramatic?

Forman Orth: This is tricky. New York City sees a massive infestation of spotted lantern flies. So when it gets to that level, and people know what it looks like, it might make sense that people would try to squash them. Right now, we only have this one plague in Fitchburg that we’re trying to control.

But chances are, if you probably think you see one, it probably isn’t. And I don’t support the “kill first, ask questions later” approach. Get a photo. Send it to us. We’d rather advocate being kind if you can, and learning more than just killing things.

The edge: Compassion for bugs. Okay, where does your own interest in bugs come from?

Forman Orth: When I was at the Center for Energy & Environmental Studies at the BU, I studied plants because I wanted to become a botanist. Then I got my master’s degree, and I went on a trip to Costa Rica and at first I thought: wow, insects are cool.

The edge: Why are they cool?

Forman Orth: [Laughing] I don’t know if I have a really good answer or explanation. They’re just really cool.

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