Spotted lanternfly bugs have increasingly become an issue for homeowners over the last few years, but the 2022 breeding season is gearing up to make this invasive species more of a national crisis. If you live across the eastern seaboard of the United States or in burgeoning areas of the Midwest, there’s a good chance you’ll see the brilliantly vibrant wings of the spotted lanternfly among your yard or garden this fall.
As we move closer to the start of the holiday season, the average spotted lanternfly is working to establish a breeding ground for thousands of new bugs to emerge later in the year — and everything from crops to potted houseplants and established garden beds can play host to them.
According to materials published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), late September and October will see spotted lanternflies creating these breeding spots rather sneakily — all while feeding on plants in and around your home. “Spotted lanternfly populations can increase quickly, and it’s not uncommon for an area to become overwhelmed with them in seemingly no time at all,” explains David Coyle, Ph.D., assistant professor of forest health and invasive species at Clemson University and a South Carolina State Extension specialist.
“Plants or anything else underneath spotted lanternfly feeding areas often get coated with a sticky substance known as ‘honeydew,’ a sweet-sounding name for bug poop. This attracts wasps and flies, and is often colonized by a black mold,” adds Coyle. “For this reason, large populations of this insect are best controlled quickly.”
They may not pose a threat to your physical health (or that of your pets!) but bug specialists like Coyle are imploring Americans to work to stem the spread of lanternfly bugs. Native to Asia, spotted lanternfly bugs were first sighted in Pennsylvania in 2014 — they’ve since spread in great numbers to 14 different states, according to the USDA. These states include:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
Impacted residents can view an interactive spotted lanternfly spread map courtesy of New York State Integrated Pest Management.
Agricultural officials in each of these states have established quarantine zones for spotted lanternfly spread and are encouraging locals to kill these bugs after they’ve been first sighted. An added bonus — killing these pests will ensure your gardens, houseplants, patio furniture and other belongings stay free of infestations of thousands of spotted lanternfly nymphs this fall.
How do I get rid of spotted lanternfly bugs?
There are two potential solutions for dealing with spotted lanternflies on your property: Immediate removal with an approved insecticide or securing egg masses for analysis by local entomologists, Coyle advises.
“Egg masses can be scraped off whatever they’re on by using a plastic card or a knife; these masses should be scraped into a plastic bag or receptacle containing rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer, and should be immediately discarded,” Coyle says. “You can also smash these egg masses, to be certain; they can be tough, so don’t be afraid to apply some pressure. You’ll see it burst open after a proper squishing.”
If you’re quick enough, experts say you may be able to physically squish grown adult lanternflies, too. This is an excellent strategy if you’ve noticed a small cluster in your garden or yard outside this fall.
While it might be tempting to come up with a DIY bug spray to deal with spotted lanternflies on your property, Coyle says these mixtures don’t effectively kill the species — and may exacerbate the problem altogether.
Does vinegar, dish soap or other DIY solutions kill spotted lanternflies?
The short answer? No. For a larger infestation, especially one within the interiors of the home in question, you should call a licensed professional to come and apply a top-strength insecticide after the bugs have been spotted.
DIY remedies targeted toward spotted lanternflies may severely damage the plants or crops they are used on, as well as pets in and around your home. “When a pesticide is registered with the Environmental Protection Agency, that means it’s undergone extensive testing, and we know how to apply it effectively and safely,” Coyle adds.
There may be state agriculture regulations on which kinds of pesticides you may use to target spotted lanternflies — after all, these toxic materials can also impact beneficial pollinators and other non-invasive bug species.
“There are insecticides available with labels that list ornamental trees as an allowed site,” as noted in materials published by PennState Extensions. “It’s legal to use them on ornamental trees, including Ailanthus altissima, to try to kill insects including the spotted lanternfly. You can check your garden center to see what they offer.”
The bottom line:
It’s important for homeowners in the eastern United States to be vigilant about the spread of spotted lanternflies this fall — and to take action if they appear on your property.
Experts say it’s likely that an infestation is on its way if you’ve noticed that your houseplants or garden items ooze or weep an unusual solution, and produce a fermented odor; or if there’s a visible buildup of honeydew on plants and the ground beneath them. Plus, mold can also be a sign that spotted lanternflies are attempting to breed thousands of new pests on your property.
Regardless if you’ve been successful in killing or removing spotted lanternflies in the past, try to keep the following tips published by the USDA in mind as we enter the fall season:
- As you prepare your outdoor spaces for winter, check any furniture or items for spotted lanternfly egg masses, especially before you bring them indoors.
- Scrape any eggs into a plastic, enclosed bag that’s thoroughly coated in hand sanitizer, then zip it shut and dispose of it immediately.
- Take a second look at any trees or plants on your property for signs of the spotted lanternfly, particularly during dusk and at night when the insects are known to gather in large groups on tree trunks and in plant stems.
- Scan any exterior smooth surfaces, including trees, brick and stone for any egg masses as well.
- Report any sightings or egg removal by using the USDA’s reporting directory to relay information to your local agricultural board.
Zee Krstic is a health editor for Good Housekeeping, where he covers health and nutrition news, decodes diet and fitness trends and reviews the best products in the wellness aisle. Prior to joining GH in 2019, Zee fostered a nutrition background as an editor at Cooking Light and is continually developing his grasp of holistic health through collaboration with leading academic experts and clinical care providers. He has written about food and dining for Time, among other publications.
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