• Thomas Luu

The Spotted Specter from the Far East: The Spotted Lanternfly

In 2018, the New York Times reported on the beginnings of an invasion of a foreign insect: the Lycorma Delicatula, or as it is more commonly known, the Spotted Lanternfly (often abbreviated to SLF). The Times concluded on a crucial concern: “… this season is expected to be an important predictor of how severe the problem could become.

A Brief History

To recount the history of the epidemic, the lanternfly was first documented within the US in 2014, specifically on the east coast. The invasive planthopper originated from countries in the Far East, notably in Vietnam, China, and India. Noting its origin is actually a crucial detail in understanding the narrative of the SLF’s appearance in the US due to one specific plant: Ailanthus altissima, or the Tree of heaven. As the University of Michigan’s dedicated lanternfly page notes, “[the] Tree of heaven is native to China, but was widely planted in much of the eastern U.S. decades ago for erosion control… [it] is now considered an invasive plant and has spread across much of the United States…” Unfortunately, an unforeseen consequence of its introduction was that the Tree of heaven is actually among the most preferred hosts for the Spotted Lanternfly, and its widespread inclusion in public areas around the US has made containment an extremely difficult task.

When the Times reported on the issue back in 2018, the lanternfly was listed as an invasive species in eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, northern Virginia, and eastern Maryland. However, as the coming spring is on the horizon, states like Ohio are beginning to preempt themselves for the furthering grasp of the pest; presently, the region taking the hardest brunt of the impact is Pennsylvania, with Penn State University listing damages to industries whose collective value makes up $18 billion of the state economy.

Why are they Dangerous?

While not immediately threatening to any one person, the SLFs are known to have three destructive traits that can cripple the surrounding environment:

1. Their attraction to a large array of plants as a food source includes those with notable commercial value, like grapes and maple.

2. They leave behind a residue referred to as “Honeydew,” which makes numerous types of east coast flora more susceptible to mold that kills or cripples their nutrient gathering processes.

3. They are able to lay eggs on almost any surface, including man made objects. This leads to sticky surfaces and potential infestations of human occupied places.

An Escalating Crisis

In response to the accelerating degradation of Pennsylvania’s agriculture, a branch of the state’s general legislature received a grant to create one of the first damage analyses of the lanternfly’s havoc. Known as the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, it is a bipartisan legislative agency responsible for providing crucial information that guides the state’s rural policy. The eighty-four page study, which is available as a public resource, entails just one insect’s staggering impact on the state’s economy, on an industry-by-industry basis.

Available Resources

Since the SLF’s entry into the US, fighting the infestation has utilized copious amounts of resources from numerous states on the east coast, as well as the collective efforts of numerous state and federal agencies. However, due to the severity of the infestation, they seek to provide information for the individual who wants to combat the threat, especially since it has reached the point where it can impact the lives of people on a personal basis. Listed below are valuable resources with information on many aspects of the issue.

Here you can find a general information page compiled by the Penn State University and Extension, Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture, and the US Department of Agriculture. It provides more specific information on the SLF’s characteristics and ways to help counter the infestation, including the proper facilities to report sightings.

Michigan State University’s Extension provides more insight into the SLF’s tendencies, as well as the specific breeding patterns and more references to combat the spread of the SLF.

The aforementioned eighty-four page study not only includes damage figures, but the susceptibility of various crops to the SLF and its negative impacts to state employment.


Since the introduction of the Spotted Lanternfly six years ago, their presence has flourished into a national concern. As more states get swept into the issue, staying up-to-date on the insect’s spread is more important now than ever. This means that it is important not only to know where the Lanternfly is moving, but also where it should not be. Communication and collaboration with the listed agencies will become deciding factors in finally containing the threat. With the spring equinox quickly approaching, the battlegrounds for an environmental showdown are nearly set; all that is left is to see how well-armed the people will be for the conflict.

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