As we head out to our gardens and tend to our new spring plants, entomologists want Marylanders to keep a vigilant look out for a new invasive insect that could wreak havoc in our area. Already spotted in Delaware, New York and Virginia, the spotted lanternfly was first discovered in the United States in Pennsylvania in 2014.
The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is a planthopper that is native to China, India, and Vietnam, but has also spread to Korea. Its preferred host is tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima), but it is known to feed on a wide range of plants. It is unknown if the spotted lanternfly has been confirmed in Maryland as of press time, but experts are hoping to prevent its spread and establishment here.
The spotted lanternfly is an invasive insect that attacks grapes, apples, stone fruits, pines, and other species. Adults lay eggs on multiple flat surfaces including the outsides and undersides of vehicles, which allow them to spread. Egg masses will hatch in the spring. Both nymphs and adults of spotted lanternfly cause damage when they feed, sucking sap from stems and leaves.
The spotted lanternfly adult is about one inch in length. The fore wings are greyish-brown with black spots, with the wing tips having a darker, brick-and-mortar pattern. The hind wings are mainly red with black spots, followed by a white band and a black tip. When the spotted lanternfly is at rest, a hint of the red color can be observed through the forewings, but the color is especially noticeable when it is in flight. The body is mainly black, but the abdomen appears to be mostly yellow with black bands going down its length.
Adults can be found as early as July, and they will remain active until the onset of winter. In late fall, the adults will mate, and the female will begin egg laying. The eggs are laid in groups of approximately 30 to 50, and then coated with a waxy gray film. When this film has dried, it can look similar to a splash of mud, which can make them difficult to notice. The eggs will hatch in the spring, usually in late April or early May.
The nymphs are small and are black with white spots when they first hatch. As the nymphs mature, they start to show red coloring, especially around their head, abdomen, and wing pads. One habit that has been observed in the nymphs is a tendency to crawl up the tree in the morning, and then back down the tree in the evening. As the nymphs often do this in large groups, it can be very noticeable.
According to the Department of Agriculture, the spotted lanternfly causes damage to plants in two different ways. The nymphs and adults feed on plants using their piercing mouthparts to suck fluids from the stems or leaves. This has been shown to cause stunted growth, localized damage, reduced yields, and, in extreme cases, even death of the plant.
Additionally, as the spotted lanternfly feeds, it excretes a sugary substance called honeydew. This honeydew, in addition to being attractive to ants, wasps, and other insects, is readily colonized by sooty mold, which can cause parts of the plants to become blackened, reducing photosynthesis and affecting the quality of the plants.
Anyone observing any egg masses or insects that look similar to this should try to collect them and inform the Maryland Department of Agriculture at 410-841-5920 or DontBug.MD@maryland.gov as soon as possible.