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Spotted Lantern Fly on L.I.

By Anthony Becker, Environmental Specialist for the NYSDOT

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The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula SLF)) is the newest invasive pest here on Long Island and might prove to be one of the more difficult to manage for agencies tasked to deal with it. What makes this insect so insidious is its appetite for grape and hops vines, apple trees, stone fruit trees (peaches, apricots, plums, etc), among other hosts in our region like black walnut, maple, black gum, sycamore, hickory and more; and that’s what worries us here on Long Island.

Most Long Islanders know that our island has a culture and economy based on farming, orchards, vineyards, and even some breweries as of late. And without getting into the sticky ethics of invasive species management, I can say with certainty that for those who are worried about the SLF take-over of the region, their concerns are certainly not overexaggerated. Having worked for the NYS Dept of Agriculture and Markets (NYSDAM) in the Asian Long-horned Beetle (ALB) Eradication Program, I have somewhat of a background in invasive species management. But for this article I’d like to focus on one particular quality of the SLF that will make this species more difficult to control. The SLF, unlike the ALB, is a true bug (sucking insect)– and even more than that, it’s a planthopper. That physiological distinction means one thing for us. They’re better at, well, flying. The body of a beetle is built more for protection rather than flying, as their chitinous exoskeleton (hard shell) makes them clunky fliers. This made the task of controlling the insect’s movement throughout the island at least more manageable via quarantines and strict agricultural regulations. The SLF will give us a literal run for our money simply because it can fly better.

What’s more is that the SLF packs a one-two-punch for its host plants. Not only does it syphon the sap from the stems, leaves, and trunks of its host plants, but the sugary excrements it exudes, called honeydew, causes a sooty mold to grow over whatever it lands on. In large enough quantities this can sometimes stunt plant growth from reduced sunlight exposure. It also attracts other insects (wasps, bees, flies) to the sweet residue, creating a real nuisance. And one can imagine how annoying this would be not only commercially to agriculture, but in one’s own backyard. Safe to say the SLF poses a real annoyance. However, one ironic bright side is that the SLF’s preferred host is another invasive species that has quite colonized the region as well – the tree of heaven, or Ailanthus altissima. A simple Google search can help any novice gardener to identify these two very charismatic species. This prolific weedy tree grows well in disturbed areas – think roadsides and urban environments. More notably, it is the tree that grew in Brooklyn. Now these two species are continuing their ecological dance on our soil and with any luck the SLF’s presence can help combat the spread of Ailanthus, or vice versa if we can manage the spread of Ailanthus. Any sort of well-thought-out management program should likely involve both of these species together.

In my current work for the NYS Dept of Transportation, we’ve been asked to help the NYS Dept of Ag. and Markets by installing traps in our maintenance yards throughout the island. As we inspect these traps, we can help track the spread of the SLF eastward from the initial infestation in Pennsylvania. SLF on the forks would mean great harm to our agricultural economy, so any signs of the bugs or their gray mud-like coated egg masses should be reported to the NYSDAM or NYSDEC immediately upon detection. This is definitely a bug you don’t have to feel bad about squishing.

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