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Environment & Energy

See A Spotted Lanternfly? Squash It!

spotted_lanternfly.jpg
Matt Rourke
/
AP

If you live in Pennsylvania or any of its surrounding environs, you’ve probably seen an interesting looking bug in the past few years: the spotted lanternfly. Around this time of year, it’s in its nymph stage. But when fully grown, these lanternflies sound a little like the joke—they’re black and white and red all over. They’ve also got spots, as their name suggests.

The charming news about how interesting they look is offset by the bad news: They are an invasive species. And they frighten crop farmers because they have a taste for just about anything, and a fondness for grapes, which could have dramatic economic consequences.

Dr. Julie Urban, associate research professor in entomology at Penn State University, says these economic consequences have already been seen in vineyards in the northeast. To keep spotted lanternflies from razing their grapes, vineyards are using more insecticides than ever - resulting in queasy images.

“You’ll walk through a vineyard and you’ll see just piles of hundreds or thousands of dead lanternfly underneath every vine,” Urban says. “It looks like they mulched with lanternfly. And more and more will keep coming in, and [vineyards] just can’t keep up.”

Many states have a unified stance on what to do if you spy a spotted lanternfly—stomp them out. But the spotted lanternfly lays its eggs on just about anything - it’s hypothesized that they came to Pennsylvania from Asia via a shipment of stone.

“If you think about them getting here on stone, they can get here on anything,” Urban said. “So this is a significant economic impact to any kind of company that transports anything over state or international lines.”

For now, researchers like Urban are trying to learn more about spotted lanternfly behavior to find an effective way to lure and trap them.

You can hear more from this interview on Science Friday.