Brandywine professors raise awareness about Pennsylvania's newest pest

Haleigh Swansen
August 29, 2018

MEDIA, Pa. — There’s a new insect causing a “buzz” in the northeastern United States — and two Brandywine faculty members have joined a University-wide effort to educate the public.

The invasive insect, commonly called the spotted lanternfly, is a planthopper native to Southeast Asia. It came to the United States in 2014, where it was traced to Berks County, Pennsylvania. Today, it has become a problem not only in 13 counties of Pennsylvania, but in regions of Virginia and New Jersey as well.

“It’s less of a problem in its native region because it has natural enemies controlling it,” said Brandywine Assistant Teaching Professor of Biology Mark Boudreau, “but when it was first introduced to South Korea, for example, it devastated their grape and peach industries.”

The spotted lanternfly is difficult to control because it has very few natural enemies in the United States — and since it’s new to the Western world, very little is known about its life cycle, habits, natural predators and response to insecticides.

Sensing a void of information on this newly important topic, Penn State Extension — an educational, science-based organization with offices in every county of Pennsylvania — has taken up the spotted lanternfly issue as a new project.

“Rick Roush, the dean of Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, sent an invitation to some Penn State faculty in affected counties, asking them to help educate the public,” Boudreau said.

“The big goal right now is to keep the bugs from spreading,” said Boudreau. “There’s even a quarantine area — a legal designation within Pennsylvania — and you can’t knowingly transport any stage of the insect’s life cycle outside of that zone.”

From the Brandywine campus, Boudreau and Assistant Professor of Biology Mick Yoder are two faculty members who have answered that call. They now work alongside colleagues from several other Penn State campuses, teaching people about the insects and investigating new control methods.

“The big goal right now is to keep the bugs from spreading,” said Boudreau. “There’s even a quarantine area — a legal designation within Pennsylvania — and you can’t knowingly transport any stage of the insect’s life cycle outside of that zone.”

The spotted lanternfly lays its eggs from September to December and they hatch in late April or May. The eggs can be laid on any surface, which is, in part, why they are so difficult to track and quarantine.

Once hatched, the insect goes through four nymphal stages before growing its wings and becoming a fully-matured spotted lanternfly. They are identified by spotted markings on their wings and a deep red patch on their backs, which is only visible when their wings spread.

The insects are also, unfortunately, voracious eaters.

“They can live off of upwards of 70 hosts,” said Boudreau. “That includes commercial products like grapes, peaches, apples and all kinds of hardwoods, which are a special concern for us because Pennsylvania is the number one exporter of hardwoods in the United States.”

New research is being conducted up and down the East Coast to combat the spread of the spotted lanternfly. The USDA has a research facility in Massachusetts, and researchers at Penn State’s University Park campus are trying to map the basics of the bug’s life cycle, its natural predators and possible pest control solutions.

According to Boudreau, new research is being conducted up and down the East Coast to combat the spread of the spotted lanternfly. The USDA has a research facility in Massachusetts, and researchers at Penn State’s University Park campus are trying to map the basics of the bug’s life cycle, its natural predators and possible pest control solutions.

Boudreau and Yoder, along with Penn State faculty members from the Mont Alto and Lehigh Valley campuses, are doing their part by hosting talks to educate the public.

“We work with the Penn State Extension offices in each county to set up forums and lectures about the lanternfly,” he said. “I was just out in Luzerne County giving a talk. Mick has been talking to borough councils and the local Boy Scouts.”

They have also led discussions at local arboreta and city and state parks — including one with the Fairmount Park Conservancy. Vendors in the state quarantine zone must go through training and get a permit before transporting goods outside of the zone. 

“Mick and I did live training sessions with the Amish community because they can’t do it online,” Boudreau said.

Predictably, public interest in the spotted lanternfly seems to spike as Boudreau and Yoder travel closer to Berks County, where the pest was first documented.

“A hundred people came to Mick’s talk in Reading,” Boudreau said. “The local TV station was there, and he got interviewed for the town paper. As the bug spreads, we’re going to see more people take interest.”

Although there is still much to learn about the spotted lanternfly, Pennsylvania residents can still take many easy steps to control the pest in their own backyards.

They have especially seen interest in the Master Gardener community — a group of certified gardeners who are drafted as local resources in their municipalities.

Although there is still much to learn about the spotted lanternfly, Boudreau reminds his audiences that they can still take many easy steps to control the pest in their own backyards.

“If you see eggs or insects, squish them,” he said. “A good old-fashioned shoe or flyswatter will certainly get the job done. We also recommend putting sticky tape around the trunks of trees and trap the nymphs, which can’t fly yet.”

Other control methods include insecticides and cutting down the insect’s favorite host, an invasive plant commonly called Tree of Heaven.

For more information about the spotted lanternfly and how to control it, visit the Penn State Extension website. 

  • Spotted Lanternfly

    The spotted lanternfly is an invasive insect native to Southeast Asia. It came to the United States in 2014, where it was traced to Berks County, Pennsylvania. 

    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated August 30, 2018