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Spotted Lanternfly

Spotted lanternfly egg masses (left and top of photo) with a gypsy moth egg mass (right). Photo courtesy of Gregory Hoover.
Spotted lanternfly first instar nymph (immature). Note that the nymph is black with white spots. This coloration persists through the third instar. Photo courtesy of Gregory Hoover.
Spotted lanternfly fourth (final) instar nymph (immature). Note the color change to red and black with white spots. Photo courtesy of Gregory Hoover.
Spotted lanternfly adult at rest. Note the wings are held roof-like over the back of the insect. Photo courtesy of Gregory Hoover.
Pinned spotted lanternfly adults with wings open. Note the bright red coloration now visible on the hindwings. This cannot be seen when the insect is at rest. (Simisky, 2017).

Pest: Spotted Lanternfly

Order: Hemiptera

Family: Fulgoridae

** Report if Found **

Host/Range

The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula), also known as a lanternmoth, is neither a fly nor a moth. This insect is a member of the Order Hemiptera (true bugs, cicadas, hoppers, aphids, and others) and the Family Fulgoridae, also known as planthoppers. This insect is a non-native species first detected in the United States in Berks County, Pennsylvania and confirmed on September 22, 2014. The spotted lanternfly is not currently found in Massachusetts. 

The spotted lanternfly is considered native to China, India, and Vietnam. It has been introduced as a non-native insect to South Korea and Japan, prior to its detection in the United States. In South Korea, it is considered invasive and a pest of grapes and peaches. A 2014 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) bulletin states that the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture found significant populations of the spotted lanternfly at multiple properties at the time of its detection, including residential properties and a commercial property with a specialty stone business. That particular company was stated to import over 150 shipments from China, India, and Brazil annually, according to the USDA APHIS bulletin.

The spotted lanternfly has been reported from over 70 species of plants, including the following:

  • Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) (preferred host)
  • Apple (Malus spp.)
  • Plum, cherry, peach, apricot (Prunus spp.)
  • Grape (Vitis spp.)
  • Pine (Pinus spp.) and others

Other hosts reported for this insect include: American beech (Fagus grandifolia), American linden (Tilia americana), American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), big-toothed aspen (Populus grandidentata), black birch (Betula lenta), black cherry (Prunus serotina), black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), black walnut (Juglans nigra), dogwood (Cornus spp.), Japanese snowbell (Styrax japonicus), maple (Acer spp.), oak (Quercus spp.), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), pignut hickory (Carya glabra), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), white ash (Fraxinus americana), and willow (Salix spp.).

Adults can be found on tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), an invasive plant. In the fall in Pennsylvania, adult spotted lanternfly prefer to feed and mate on tree of heaven when compared to other host plants. That being said, proximity to tree of heaven did not significantly influence the number of spotted lanternfly found on other hosts in a 2015-2016 host plant evaluation conducted in PA. (After spending time on tree of heaven, the insects disperse in the local area to lay eggs just about anywhere.)

Description/Life Cycle

Adults are 1 inch long and ½ inch wide at rest. The forewing is gray with black spots of varying sizes and the wing tips have black spots outlined in gray. Hind wings have contrasting patches of red and black with a white band. The legs and head are black, and the abdomen is yellow with black bands. Early instars (immature stages; 1st, 2nd, and 3rd instar) are black with white spots. By the last immature stage, the 4th instar, they develop red patches in addition to the black color with white spots. This is the last immature stage before they mature into an adult. Both the immature insect and the adult are quite visually striking. Adults are especially so when they have been startled and expose the bright red coloration on the hind wings. When the adult is at rest, particularly on the trunk of the tree of heaven, their gray, spotted color may actually cause them to blend in with their surroundings. Freshly laid egg masses appear as if coated with a white substance. As they age, the egg masses look as if they are coated with gray mud, which eventually takes on a dry/cracked appearance. Very old egg masses may look like rows of 30-50 brown seed-like structures aligned vertically in columns. Coated egg masses may look like “weird gypsy moth egg masses”, but they are not.

This insect has not been found in Massachusetts at this time and therefore the timing of its life cycle may be different locally from as described here. As with most insects, the timing of their life cycle can vary slightly given local temperatures. The following information is based on observations reported from Pennsylvania.

There is one generation per year. Spotted lanternfly eggs are the stage that overwinter. These eggs hatch sometime in May and nymphs (immatures) undergo four instars. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd instars are black with white spots. These immatures will feed on the various host plants listed above, depending upon availability. These early instars have been found to move up and down the host plant on a daily basis as they feed. This makes capturing some of them with sticky bands placed around host plants, such as tree of heaven, possible. Older spotted lanternflies (including adults) do not tend to be captured by that technique. The final immature stage, the 4th instar, develops red patches over these black and white spots and are typically present in July. Within the same month, these 4th instar nymphs develop into adults who have been described as weak fliers, although they have wings. As you would suspect from a planthopper, however, they are capable of jumping and may use their wings to aid them while doing so. Adults may gather in large numbers. In the fall, the adults are frequently found on tree of heaven; however, they disperse widely to lay their eggs. The adult female spotted lanternfly lays brown/tan, seed-like eggs in rows on host plants and other smooth surfaces. These rows are often oriented vertically, and then covered with a gray, waxy secretion from the female (it is white when first secreted, and then quickly turns gray-brown in color). Sometimes the eggs are completely covered by this substance, other times they are not. Each mass can contain 30-50 individual eggs, and researchers in Pennsylvania believe each female lays at least two of those masses each season. As the egg mass ages, the gray waxy coating will crack and looks even more like dried mud. Eggs are laid starting in September and this can continue through late November or early December. Eggs overwinter, hatch in May, and the life cycle continues. Based on observations from Pennsylvania, eggs can be found, if this insect is present, between October – May.

Damage

The adults and immatures of this species damage host plants by feeding on sap from stems, leaves, and the trunks of trees. In the springtime in Pennsylvania (late April – mid May), nymphs (immatures) are found on smaller plants and vines and new growth of trees and shrubs. Third and fourth instar nymphs migrate to the tree of heaven and are observed feeding on trunks and branches. Trees may be found with sap weeping from the wounds caused by the insect’s feeding. The sugary secretions (excrement) created by this insect may coat the host plant, later leading to the growth of sooty mold. Insects such as wasps, hornets, bees, and ants may also be attracted to the sugary waste created by the lanternflies, or sap weeping from open wounds in the host plant. Host plants have been described as giving off a fermented odor when this insect is present.

Adults are present by the middle of July in Pennsylvania and begin laying eggs (as described above) by late September and continue laying eggs through late November and even early December in that state. Adults may be found on the trunks of trees such as the tree of heaven or other host plants growing in close proximity to them. The USDA states that dusk is a great time to inspect your trees or other host plants for signs of this pest, as the insects tend to gather in large groups on the trunks and stems of plants at that time of day.

Tree of heaven, bricks, stone, lawn furniture, recreational vehicles, and other smooth surfaces can be inspected for egg masses. Egg masses laid on outdoor residential items such as those listed above may pose the greatest threat for spreading this insect via human aided movement.

Management

This insect has not yet been detected in Massachusetts at this time. If you believe you have found any of the above described life stages of the spotted lanternfly in Massachusetts, please report it here:

Massachusetts Introduced Pests Outreach Project:

Report pest sightings: https://massnrc.org/pests/report.aspx

Spotted lanternfly is currently known to the following counties in Pennsylvania: Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, and Schuylkill County. For a map of the locations, visit the updated Spotted Lanternfly Quarantine Map at http://bit.ly/2lGJQzQ. Certain municipalities within those Pennsylvania counties are subject to a quarantine created by the PA Dept. of Agriculture. Their quarantine, in an effort to stop the risk of human aided spread of this insect, has restricted the movement of certain articles out of towns where this insect has been detected, including brush, debris, or yard waste, landscaping or construction waste, logs, stumps, firewood, nursery stock, and outdoor residential items such as recreational vehicles, tractors, tile, stone, etc. For more information regarding Pennsylvania's quarantine, visit the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture web page at http://www.agriculture.pa.gov/Plants_Land_Water/PlantIndustry/Entomology/spotted_lanternfly/Pages/default.aspx.

Until November 2017, this invasive insect was only known to Pennsylvania. It has now been reported from Delaware (Nov. 20, 2017), New York (Nov. 29, 2017 and Sept. 11, 2018), Virginia (Jan. 10, 2018), and New Jersey (July 17, 2018). The Delaware Department of Agriculture announced the finding of a single female spotted lanternfly in New Castle County in the Wilmington, Delaware area. At that time, officials in Delaware noted that it was unclear if this individual was an accidental hitchhiker, or evidence of an established population in the state. For more information about the find in Delaware, visit: https://news.delaware.gov/2017/11/20/spotted-lanternfly-confirmed-delaware/. The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets reported on November 29, 2017 the finding of a single dead individual spotted lanternfly in the state from earlier in the month. A single dead specimen was confirmed at a facility in Delaware County, New York, which is located south-west of Albany. The NYS Dept. of Agriculture and Markets states that this dead individual may have come in on an interstate shipment. For more information about the find in New York, visit: https://www.agriculture.ny.gov/AD/release.asp?ReleaseID=3637. Additionally, on September 11, 2018, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced the finding of a single adult insect in a vehicle in Albany County, New York as well as a single adult spotted lanternfly on private property in Yates County. For more information about the latest New York findings, visit: http://www.dec.ny.gov/press/114646.html . Virginia Cooperative Extension has announced the finding of a spotted lanternfly population in Frederick County, Virginia, on January 10, 2018. It was noted that the location in Virginia revealed numerous adult lanternflies and egg masses at one location, in addition to more at another site approximately 400 yards away. For more information about the find in Virginia, visit: https://ext.vt.edu/agriculture/commercial-horticulture/spotted-lanternfly.html. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture announced the finding of spotted lanternfly on tree of heaven in Warren County, New Jersey on July 17, 2018 and have since confirmed that this pest has been detected in three New Jersey counties, including Mercer and Hunterdon County. For more information about the latest detections in New Jersey, visit: https://www.state.nj.us/agriculture/news/press/2018/approved/press180823.html

Further Resources

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture:

http://www.agriculture.pa.gov/Plants_Land_Water/PlantIndustry/Entomology/spotted_lanternfly/Pages/default.aspx 

PennState Extension:

https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly-what-to-look-for

https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly-identification-and-life-cycle

https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly-host-study

The United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service:

https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/resources/pests-diseases/hungry-pests/the-threat/spotted-lanternfly/spotted-lanternfly

https://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/plant_health/2014/alert_spotted_lanternfly.pdf

Massachusetts Introduced Pests Outreach Project and Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources:

https://massnrc.org/pests/pestFAQsheets/spottedlanternfly.html

*To request free spotted lanternfly ID cards, visit: http://bit.ly/FPOMOrder

Author: 
Tawny Simisky, Extension Entomologist
Last Updated: 
Sep 12, 2018