Wwith its ruby red body and dotted wings, the spotted lantern fly is objectively beautiful. Despite its sleek appearance, state and federal officials are spreading the same message for dealing with the invasive species: If you spot a spotted lantern fly, pinch it at sight.
Left to themselves, the spotted lantern fly threatens the ecological integrity of the midwestern and western parts of the United States. “Spotted lantern flies are a threat to our city’s forests,” the New York City Parks Department said tweeted. “If you see a spotted lantern fly, pinch it, dispose of it and report it to us.”
The latest barrage of warnings came after an 11-year-old boy unknowingly displayed a spotted lantern fly as part of his insect collection at the Kansas State Fair. While judging the competition, one of the officials recognized the insect as Lycorma delicatula, an invasive species farmers in the eastern United States have struggled for years. How the spotted lantern fly came to Kansas has left state and federal officials worried and scratching their heads. The discovery of a spotted lantern fly in Kansas signals that the invasive species is heading west.
Brittany Campbell, PhD, an entomologist and researcher for the National Pest Management Association, says that although they do not want to bite or sting humans, spotted lantern flies are particularly dangerous to agricultural communities. Native to China, it first appeared in Pennsylvania in 2014 before spreading up and down the east coast and as far west as Indiana. Their appetite for fresh produce is matched only by their ability to destroy forests.
“They pose significant threats to woody and non-woody plants,” she says. “They are also capable of causing damage to the grape, fruit tree and logging industries, as they feed on the sap of many trees and plants.”
As their name suggests, spotted lantern flies can actually fly, but the winged insect is more likely to hitchhike its way to Kansas on a vehicle transporting crops. Although state and federal officials are investigating an ongoing potential attack, Washington Post reported that the boy submitted a “worn and dried out” dead specimen he had found in May, which could have been dead for over a year.
Still, the warnings are clear: If you see a spotted lantern fly, kill it (and photograph it and put it in a jar of liquor, if possible). The invasive pest is nothing but a threat to our ecosystem.
“The spread of spotted lantern flies will be limited in some states based on climate,” Campbell said. “Models have shown that the spotted lantern fly can be established in several central and midwestern states that do not get too hot or too cold for this pest to thrive.”
In addition to killing the bugs, Campbell suggests warning professionals who can help reduce risks accordingly. “Make sure to check cars and all outdoor equipment regularly [for insects], like grills, firewood, trees, outdoor furniture and lawn mowers, “she says.” If you find egg masses around your home, scrape them off and put them in a double bag before throwing them in the trash. You should also contact your local Department of Agriculture to report an observation and any migration of this invasive species. “
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