Lanternflies—the menace invading the community

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By Hyunjin Lee, Co-T/E-Life-Editor

Brooms, soaps, tapes and cell phone apps — people are coming up with more and more ingenious ways to kill the lanternflies spreading all over Southeastern Pennsylvania and beyond. 

An invasive species native to China, India and Vietnam, spotted lanternflies were first discovered in Berks County in 2014. Today, they can be found in states such as New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.  From tree trunks at people’s favorite parks to sports fields, backyards, parking lots and even the courtyards at Conestoga, spotted lantern flies have claimed their domain. 

“There are just so many of them. The other day I looked at the tree in the courtyard, and there was a swarm of them in the tree,” sophomore Chloe Brooks said. 

People have even reported the ubiquitous menaces flying into them. 

“Over the summer, two lanternflies landed on my shoulder during marching band preseason. They are ugly when they are alive. They are ugly when they die. And to make matters worse, they are bad for the environment,” sophomore Amy Douglas said. 

Their dark black spots and splashes of blood red may be interesting (or horrifying) to look at, but spotted lanternflies pose threats to the Pennsylvanian economy and agriculture, especially to the vineyard industry.

“In vineyards, (spotted lanternflies) are stressing out plants so much that, in combination with bad weather, we are getting total crop loss and/or vine death,” said Heather Leach, an extension associate at Penn State University specializing in the spotted lanternfly. 

Pennsylvania, the fifth-largest grape-growing state in the nation, is home to more than 270 wineries and annually produces approximately 1 million gallons of wine. 

Spotted lanternflies, which feast on plant saps, are attracted to a wide array of other agricultural crops including walnuts, hops and the “tree of heaven,” a deciduous tree native to China. 

“There is a very important ingredient of beer called hops. Pennsylvania grows a fair amount of hops, and all of these plants are threatened by the lantern flies,” Environmental Science teacher John Ligget said.

In addition to damaging the environment, these unwelcome guests from overseas create disturbances in our everyday lives. Students have noticed them during lunchtimes in the courtyards and out in the parking lots suntanning on the roofs of their cars.

“I think that the lanternflies are gross and a danger to an environment that is already in jeopardy in so many ways,” junior Katie Chuss said. 

Spotted lanternflies have received an unprecedented amount of media coverage and public attention in comparison to other invasive species. 

“The stink bug might get close, but I don’t know that it’s at the same level. After all, I never hear of people dressing up as stink bugs for Halloween like I hear with lanternflies,” Leach said.

She believes that the attention could be due to the awareness campaign led by Penn State University and supported by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. 

Matthew Helmus, an assistant professor of biology at Temple University, offers another possible reason for the extensive coverage. 

“It’s not like an invasive species that’s only found in the water where you can’t see it or in an agricultural field out somewhere far away from you. It’s all over the place, and it jumps on you,” Helmus said.

Currently, Chester County and twelve other Pennsylvania counties are under quarantine. 

“In order to stop the movement of (the) lanternfly, (Pennsylvania) is requiring that people who travel to certain counties in Pennsylvania not move material which could contain the eggs or the young forms of the lanternfly from one county to the next,” Ligget said. 

However, preventing the spread of material between counties is not a foolproof mechanism. According to Leach, the quarantine comes with its own potential complications regarding permit training and record keeping.

Furthermore, campaigns by several different groups are raising awareness of spotted lanternflies. 

“We’re really trying to get people aware of this to limit the spread and do their part, calling on community engagement. People are banding together to stop spotted lanternflies, and that is very encouraging to see,” Leach said. 

As for the rest of us, we can help stop the spread of spotted lanternflies too. As Helmus said, “If you see it, squish it.”