Monitoring for the Spotted Lanternfly in Massachusetts
The Pest and the Problem
The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is an invasive, non-native Hemipteran (true bugs, cicadas, hoppers, aphids, etc.) in the family Fulgoridae (the planthoppers). This insect uses piercing-sucking mouthparts to remove plant fluids from over 103 different host plants (Barringer and Ciafré, 2020), including tree of heaven (TOH; Ailanthus altissima), apple (Malus spp.), plum, cherry, peach, apricot (Prunus spp.), grape (Vitis spp.), 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), willow (Salix spp.), and many others.
While tree of heaven is considered a preferred host, spotted lanternfly will feed on other susceptible hosts and lay its eggs on just about any flat surface. Because of this, it is very easy to accidentally move spotted lanternfly egg masses, in addition to adults and nymphs (immatures).
There are currently no known established populations of spotted lanternfly in Massachusetts. However, we need to remain vigilant because it is clear that this insect is an excellent hitchhiker and capable of moving great distances with our accidental help.
Spotted lanternfly feeding has caused mortality (perhaps in addition to abiotic factors) and losses of grape crops in Pennsylvania. Additionally, flagging and branch dieback has been observed in that state on some host trees. However the long-term impacts of spotted lanternfly feeding are not yet completely understood on all susceptible hosts. That said, this invasive insect has become a significant nuisance in the areas of the US where it has become established. Spotted lanternfly adults and nymphs produce a sugary, liquid excrement known as honeydew, which can coat leaves, plants, and other objects (such as outdoor furniture, cars, etc.) that are found beneath infested host plants. This honeydew can promote the growth of black sooty mold and also attract stinging insects, such as wasps. Adults can gather in very large numbers in managed landscapes. These are all excellent reasons to prevent this pest from spreading!
Recognizing the Spotted Lanternfly
- Eggs: Overwinter and are laid starting in September and hatch in May in Pennsylvania. Freshly laid egg masses appear as if coated with a white substance. (All or only some of the egg mass.) 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.
- 1st – 3rd Instars: Present following egg hatch from May through roughly June in PA. Early instars (immature stages; 1st, 2nd, and 3rd instar) are black with white spots.
- 4th Instar: Present in July in PA. SLF develop red patches in addition to the black color with white spots. This is the last immature stage before they mature into an adult.
- Adults: Present from July until frost kills them, usually in November and December in PA. 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.
Keep your eyes open! Be on the lookout for any of the aforementioned life stages of this insect in Massachusetts and report anything suspicious immediately to the MA Department of Agricultural Resources at: https://massnrc.org/pests/slfreport.aspx
Trapping Surveillance and Research
University of Massachusetts researchers and Extension specialists have joined forces with USDA APHIS researchers to monitor for and develop effective tools to detect the spotted lanternfly, in collaboration with other state and federal agencies in Massachusetts. The goals of this integrated research and extension project are to test novel attractants (lures) and traps to improve detection of this invasive insect.
Dr. Jaime Pinero (UMass Extension’s Fruit Program and the Stockbridge School of Agriculture), Dr. Joseph Elkinton and Dr. Jeremy Andersen (Department of Environmental Conservation), Dr. Miriam Cooperband (Forest Pest Methods Laboratory, USDA-APHIS-PPQ-CPHST), and Tawny Simisky (UMass Extension’s Landscape, Nursery and Urban Forestry Program) are working together to trap for the spotted lanternfly in Massachusetts. Dr. Elkinton and Dr. Andersen are working with Dr. Cooperband to evaluate several attractant lures that Dr. Cooperband has developed, including volatile extracts derived from SLF that may attract other individuals of this species (possibly pheromones) which may be more effective. Dr. Pinero is working with orchards and vineyards to monitor for spotted lanternfly with methyl salicylate, a host plant volatile chemical (kairomone) that is currently being used in SLF traps.
With the help of Caroline Schelleng (intern with the Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment’s Summer Scholars Program) and Amanda Halperin (Graduate Student with the Department of Environmental Conservation), Dr. Andersen and Dr. Elkinton have identified and placed SLF traps at locations in the Pioneer Valley where tree of heaven is present, along with a location in Connecticut. With the help of Heriberto Godoy Hernandez (Graduate Student with the Stockbridge School of Agriculture), Dr. Pinero has identified and placed SLF traps at orchards and vineyards across Massachusetts. Trapping efforts at UMass Amherst have also been coordinated with other officials (MA Department of Agricultural Resources and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) in Massachusetts who are trapping for the spotted lanternfly in other areas of the state. UMass led trapping locations can be seen on the map on left.
The type of insect trap that is being used to detect the spotted lanternfly is known as a “circle trap”. This trap uses a funnel-shaped construction and is placed around SLF’s favored host, tree of heaven, in order to capture insects moving up the tree. Nymphs and adults that are climbing the tree of heaven are guided into a container (usually plastic bag or jug) as they move up the tree. Penn State Extension provides a helpful description of how to construct a circle trap for spotted lanternfly here: https://extension.psu.edu/how-to-build-a-new-style-spotted-lanternfly-circle-trap
Lures are deployed in various ways. Methyl salicylate is typically available in a controlled release packet with a specifically designed membrane which allows for the chemical attractant to be released slowly over a period of weeks. Dr. Cooperband’s research lures are applied using a method known as SPLAT or Specialized Pheromone and Lure Application Technology. This is done by applying a putty-like substance with a caulking gun which contains a slow release of volatile chemical extracts from the spotted lanternfly (possible pheromones) that attract other individuals of this species. All traps are checked weekly and any insects or insect relatives (including accidental by-catch) are collected and brought back to the lab for identification. To-date, UMass researchers have not yet detected spotted lanternfly at any of the locations they are monitoring in Massachusetts or Connecticut.
Upcoming Outreach & Extension
Tawny Simisky is working with Dr. Pinero, Dr. Elkinton, Dr. Andersen, and Dr. Cooperband to host a FREE virtual SLF Trapping Update from UMass on August 31, 2021. Pesticide and association credits will be provided. Registration information will soon be made available at: https://ag.umass.edu/landscape/upcoming-events
This research, monitoring, and free webinar is made possible by funding support from the Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment’s Integrated Research and Extension grant program.
Reported by Tawny Simisky, UMass Extension’s Landscape, Nursery and Urban Forestry Program, Dr. Jaime Pinero, UMass Extension’s Fruit Program and the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, Dr. Joseph Elkinton and Dr. Jeremy Andersen, Department of Environmental Conservation, Dr. Miriam Cooperband, Forest Pest Methods Laboratory USDA-APHIS-PPQ-CPHST, Caroline Schelleng, Undergraduate and Summer Scholars Intern, Amanda Halperin, Graduate Student with the Department of Environmental Conservation, and Heriberto Godoy Hernandez, Graduate Student with the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.