Forget 'Kumbaya:' Camp Kids Help Fight Spotted Lanternfly
Summer camp is a place for friendship bracelets, nature walks and bug juice.
But at one program in southeast Pennsylvania, children were given a whole new experience.
They were taught how to find, then crush the spotted lanternfly, an invasive insect that has become enemy No. 1 in the state.
The weeklong program, themed Hunt for the Spotted Lanternfly, was created by Centro Cultural Latinos Unidos, a Pottstown group, in partnership with other organizations.
About 27 children and their families participated in the program that ended on a recent Friday.
"We decided we would give the kids some knowledge that they can take back to their friends, to the school and create stewards of the future. That's our goal," Edie Shean-Hammond, a consultant for the involved organizations, said.
As part of a week that included hiking, kayaking and swimming, campers were given a primer on the insect from Asia.
First discovered in Berks County in 2012, it is now in 13 Pennsylvania counties, including Lehigh and Northampton, and parts of New Jersey.
With no natural predators, the spotted lanternfly poses a multibillion dollar threat to the state's agriculture industry because it feeds on stone fruit-bearing plants, and also leaves behind a sticky substance that attracts mold.
State and federal officials are spending more than $20 million to research and eradicate the insect.
To stop its march, experts recommend killing the insect — by insecticide, foot or a good old-fashioned fly swatter.
Children in the camp took up the predator mantle, and happily smashed the winged, brown and red insect with black spots when they came upon them.
Lessons started Monday with Lisha Rowe, a park ranger at Hopewell Furnace, who explained lanternfly basics and helped them cull lanternflies off grapevines and into little boxes, where they could be observed and then drawn by the campers.
Typically, Rowe would be clear: Captured bugs should be let free. But not this time.
"I kept the bugs and killed them myself," she said.
Sarah Crothers, the education coordinator at the Schuylkill River Greenways National Heritage Area, also has been speaking to children in the Pottstown area about the spotted lanternfly.
She's spoken at Warwick Child Care, the Olivet Boys & Girls Club in Pottstown and on Friday spent time with about 27 children enrolled in the Hunt for the Spotted Lanternfly program.
The hunt program was part of a partnership of Centro Cultural Latinos Unidos, a bilingual organization providing services to Latino families, the National Park Service, Friends of Hopewell Furnace, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Chester County Parks Department, Natural Lands Trust and Schuylkill River Greenways.
Children enrolled in the weeklong camp traveled to different parks each day, starting at Hopewell Furnace, and moving through Warwick County Park, Nolde State Forest, Crow's Nest Preserve and French Creek State Park.
By the time Crothers met with the children in the program Friday, they could already identify the spotted lanternfly and even knew the bugs are native to China, India and Vietnam.
Crothers reviewed the different life stages of the insect, from young white-spotted, black-bodied nymph to "teen" white-spotted, red-bodied nymph to black-spotted, brown and red-winged adult.
She often talks to children about the importance of clean water, particularly a clean Schuylkill River and watershed. She tells them trees are a key component for environmental health and also provide oxygen, habitat, food, materials and other items.
"We need to keep them safe and healthy, and the lanternfly does the opposite of that, basically," she said.
She explains that the problem with the spotted lanternfly is that it's an invasive species that doesn't have any natural predators in the area so its population will continue to grow.
It becomes a game for the children, Crothers said. She makes it clear that the lanternfly is the only bug they're allowed to kill.
"The boys tend to be more gung ho, they're not as afraid to touch them," she said. "Sometimes, they really gross me out. They're pretty big and squishy and gross."