Mottled lanterns thrive in the northeast this summer. In New York, where this year’s invasion looks particularly extreme, people are crushing them on the streets, on railings and even on their restaurant tables. The exterior walls of buildings in the Big Apple are covered in speckled red bugs.
Some are dead. Some are shaking. Many are still very much alive.
The good news is that the invasive fly does not sting or bite humans. But they do a lot of harm to plants and trees. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, spotted lanterns feed on the sap of food crops such as grapes, apples and peaches, and trees such as maple, timber and walnut.
The insects, which originated in Southeast Asia, are spreading so quickly in the United States that experts say it has become difficult to control and manage them. And the experts send a clear message: if you see it, crush it.
As temperatures warm due to the climate crisis and the growing season lengthens, the lanterns could be here to stay and they are spreading to new areas.
“It’s a very distinctive and characteristic insect, and it’s establishing itself in more and more places,” Julie Urban, associate research professor of entomology at Pennsylvania State University, told CNN. “It’s possible that if your plants are around longer, lanterns in warmer areas may linger longer and possibly lay an extra brood,” or egg mass.
Mottled lanterns prefer warm climates, so as temperatures rise in northern states, the range of the insects is bound to expand. Also, with colder temperatures, “it usually takes not just the first hard frost, but a few hard freezes to kill them, and so cold snaps are definitely not going to push the population back,” Urban added.
With their unique, mottled brown and red wings, the invasive insects are “excellent hitchhikers”, flying short distances, settling in to lay masses of eggs and leaping from leaf to leaf, said Brian Eshenaur, an invasive species expert at Cornell University working with New York State Integrated Pest Management.
Eshenaur said he and other researchers believe the insect arrived in the United States in 2014, having stowed away in a shipment of landscape stone from South Korea, where the species is also invasive. The first known infestation broke out in Berks County, Pennsylvania, where the insects fed in a wooded area filled with an invasive tree species called the Tree of Heaven.
Report dappled lanterns: In New York | In other states
“It can lay eggs there, and then in the spring those eggs hatch and if there are suitable plants in the landscape, they can settle in their new location,” he said. “It seems that’s what they did.”
In the years since, the spotted lanternflies have spread almost everywhere in the Northeast, from Pennsylvania to Vermont, and now New York. At first, Eshenaur told people to watch out for egg masses on firewood, but now he warns that insects can lay eggs on almost anything.
“Now we’ve seen egg masses laid on camping chairs, garden furniture left outside and even like a hat someone left during egg-laying season,” he said. declared. “We actually just had our first confirmation of an egg mass laying in New York’s Hudson Valley, but we’re sure it’s likely happening all over New York City.”
And in the northeast, particularly on Long Island and the Finger Lakes, experts say the spread of the species is threatening wine.
“Vineyard officials sought to control insects that might feed on the foliage or the grape clusters themselves,” Eshenaur said. “A grape grower lost about 35 acres, and they stopped planting vines there for a while and wondered if they could even have vineyards.”
Mottled lanterns feed on plant sap, which they reach by puncturing trunks and branches. The stings weaken the plants, but most of the damage comes from honeydew falling on the leaves and fruits. And if left unchecked, plants, especially grapes, develop black mold and eventually wilt.
Part of the reason lanterns have been difficult to manage in a place like New York, according to Urban, is because they thrive in so-called disturbed areas. For example, insects are very fond of the invasive sky tree, which can grow through cracks in common sidewalks and roofs across the city. They also camp on plants along roads or railway lines.
“The way climate change comes into this whole story is where you find lanternflies — and how they can really establish themselves,” Urban said. “Climate change is also a story of disruption, and so it’s more of that overall disruption that adds extra noise and makes these insects problematic.”
Mottled Lanterns have been spotted as far south as North Carolina, and many experts fear they are spreading west, where much of the country’s food is grown. A 2019 study showed that the lantern’s potential habitat could extend throughout the Midwest and Southeast, and, worryingly, there’s a strong potential for the bug to take hold on the West Coast.
Lisa Neven, research entomologist at the United States Department of Agriculture and co-author of the study, told CNN that if the spotted lanternfly spreads to the coast, it could have a huge effect on the agricultural industry and food production in the region.
“People are very, very aware of this pest and are on the lookout, especially here in the Pacific Northwest,” Neven said. “We are very concerned about this, because of the crops we grow.”
As researchers search for longer-term solutions to the rapid rate at which the climate crisis is changing temperatures, Urban and Eshenaur urge people to report and swat spotted lanternflies when they can, so they don’t spread. to vital ecosystems in the rest of the country.
“If you don’t stop it, you will spread it,” Urban said. “Longer-term research-based solutions are coming. We just need help saving time.