‘Kill it, smash it’: spotted lanternflies due to return this spring with a vengeance | Insects

Experts are urging the US public to start keeping an eye out for the spotted lanternfly, an invasive species harmless, if irritating, to humans, but known to wreak havoc on plant life and agriculture.

Experts believe that spotted lanternflies entered the US in a shipping crate. Native to China, they were first detected in Pennsylvania in 2014 and have since spread to at least 14 states.

An adult is approximately an inch long, with black spots on its wings. Its hind legs have patches of red and black with a white band and its abdomen is yellow with black bands.

Spotted lanternflies do not fly long distances. Instead, they lay mud-like egg masses on tree bark, decks, play equipment, lawnmowers, grills, and bikes and other modes of transportation, the US Department of Agriculture said.

Lanternflies can lay egg masses with 30 to 50 eggs each and can severely affect the grape, orchard and logging industries, according to wildlife authorities.

Without any indigenous predators, the species is so invasive authorities have long urged Americans to “kill it, squash it, smash it, just get rid of it”.

The USDA now cautions travelers to frequently check vehicles, trailers and even clothes to avoid moving the insects from one area to another.

In New York, experts are warning that residents may expect to see spotted lanternflies earlier as a result of an unusually warm spring.

“With the warmer weather New York state is facing, we expect that [spotted lanternflies] may hatch earlier this year, within the next month or even sooner, in New York City, Long Island and the Hudson Valley,” Chris Logue, director of plant industry at the New York state department of agriculture and markets, told NBC New York.

One way experts advise residents to eliminate egg masses is by scraping them off hard surfaces.

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“We ask that residents look for spotted lanternfly egg masses and scrape them with a credit card or something with a hard edge,” Jeff Wolfe, a New Jersey department of agriculture spokesperson, told NBC New York.

“They have to press somewhat hard on the egg mass and will need to hear the eggs popping as they press on them to know they are being effective.”

The insects feed on more than 70 types of plants. Types of plants at risk include apple, apricot, peach, maple, oak, walnut and cherry trees and grape vines.

Signs of a spotted lanternfly presence include oozing or a fermented odor, as well as a buildup of sticky fluid known as honeydew on plants and the ground. The honeydew in turn “encourages the growth of black sooty mold”, said the Pennsylvania department of agriculture.

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