The messaging is clear: If you see a Spotted Lanternfly, you must destroy it.
While the invasive pest—a planthopper, which cannot actually fly too far—does not cause a direct threat to humans, it can be destructive to our surroundings and quality of life. In addition to infesting trees, they are considered a threat to a wide range of agricultural crops.
And this little destroyer has been lurking around the entire state—according to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, it “could impact New York’s forests as well as the agricultural and tourism industries.” Alejandro Calixto, director of the New York State Integrated Pest Management program at Cornell University, recently warned: “Once these insects reach some of the state’s grape production areas, there’s going to be an impact.” Same goes for walnuts, hops, apples, blueberries, and stone fruits.
While not native to North America, the Spotted Lanternfly was first discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014, and there’s been a growing population in several states over the past few years. The first documented infestation in the five boroughs was just last year on Staten Island; this is also when the species was first discovered in New York City.
This year New Yorkers are spotting them everywhere from their Upper West Side balconies to Brooklyn’s beaches to their beloved houseplants:
Regina Gennari-Ela saw around twenty of them in Brighton Beach over the weekend. “Hopefully the more people that know, the less of a danger these will become,” she told us.
The Spotted Lanternfly is said to have originally “arrived in the U.S. as egg masses attached to a shipment of stone,” and has quickly spread since. And since they’re hitchhikers, according to WHYY they rely on human activity to travel, “especially by laying their eggs on cars” or in camping gear. In 2018, Senator Chuck Schumer warned they could be traveling via Christmas trees, as well.
If you are thinking you are safe because you are not a Christmas tree or a leaf, think again — they have also been spotted on pant legs:
David Barrett of Manhattan Bird Alert has also been documenting the Spotted Lanternfly in recent weeks, and told us, “Citizen-science can play a major role in the fight to protect our trees and plants. We know of the insect’s arrival because of reports from the public.”
So what can you do to help?
- Kill the eggs. Susan Ndiaye, a community horticulture educator in New York, told the Times-Union that if you find egg masses to “scrape them off and destroy them.” You can then place them in a bag and use “alcohol or hand sanitizer to kill them. You can also smash them or burn them.”
- Kill them all. If you spot a live one, you should squash it while shouting, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
- Report the sighting. New Yorkers should report findings in the city’s parks by emailing Forest.Health@parks.nyc.gov. Please also report the finding to NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets here. Include photos if you can.
Dan Kastanis, Press Officer at NYC Parks, told Gothamist, “We are tracking the impact of the Spotted Lanternfly infestation, and are coordinating with state and federal agencies in surveying and treatment approaches.”
The NYS Department of Agriculture says they are not collecting additional specimens at this time, and ask that if you have one in your possession, “you please freeze, squish, and dispose of it.”
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, officials have also been urging residents to kill the creatures, and that challenge has been taken on with a kind of troubling enthusiasm! NBC reports that “in New Brunswick on Friday, dead Spotted Lanternflies could be seen in bunches scattered up and down the sidewalks. A Middlesex County official [said] that they brag to one another about how many they kill during their lunch hour.”
New Yorkers have quickly followed suit: