They popped up on wanted posters all over Long Island and New York State, grossed out hundreds of New Yorkers who often used a broom to sweep them from sidewalks, and they love to hitch a ride on cars.
“They destroyed my grape vines,” said Tony Lombardi, a longtime Queens resident, adding he “catches them all the time” in his large backyard garden. The lanternflies, he said, were “nibbling away at the grapes and eroding my tree stumps.”
More than a nuisance, the lanternfly poses a real risk to New Yorkers who own farms, run produce stands, and work our areas’ sizeable vineyards.
According to Dr. Julie Urban, an evolutionary biologist at Pennsylvania State University, “The spotted lanternfly was first detected [in the U.S.] by a Pennsylvania landscaping company that imported stone from Asia, on Sept. 22, 2014.”
The invasive insect, whose origins have been traced to China, has startled scientists. Their unexpected arrival to our area, and devastating impact on trees and various crops, has raised immense concern.
“September and early October is when the fly really needs to feed, in order to become reproductively strong enough” for their autumn mating season, Urban said. “There is still so much we do not know about this insect. We suspect that their influence will only magnify in the coming years, as the climate of the Northeast seems ideal for them to thrive in.”
This spells potential trouble for the island’s 82 wineries and 592 farms.
According to Urban, this season’s Long Island farmers and viticulturists have “avoided” any considerable damage to their product, but the future may not be as bright.
“They are popping up on Long Island vineyards, but have not been in them all season,” said Urban. “We predict that their impact will only magnify in the coming seasons, as it takes approximately three years for a wave to come in. Fortunately, they only go through one generation a year.”
In the meantime, biologists are working diligently to discover the most up-to-date information on this peculiar insect’s patterns. And, the good news is that most pesticides do kill them.
“We will continue monitoring the lanternfly, and as we gather more information, we will be better able to combat their effects on our agricultural-dependent industries. And it is true that killing them when you see them is crucial, as they multiply rapidly.”
Their main damage is to plants, especially grapes. And, how they do it, “more or less, is to destroy a plant’s phloem, the part of the plant that transports nutrients/sucrose to the body of the herbage,” Urban said. The lanternfly’s chief mode of transportation is cars, “and they move at every life stage,” she said.
The insect lays its eggs on vehicles, or as Urban puts it, “just about anything,” which is precisely why they have steadily moved East since first detected in New York, by Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, back in 2020.
“They are shipped with nursery stock, quite frequently,” adds Urban, and while mature spotted lanternflies do die out in the winter, their egg masses do not.
The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets is urging Long Island residents to report sightings of the insect on their official website.
“For Suffolk County, we are… asking residents to report sightings from areas east of Bohemia/Stony Brook,” said Jola Szubielski, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.
As for the bug’s toxicity, Urban said there is nothing to fear.
“They are not harmful to pets, even if accidentally ingested. And, their mouthparts cannot penetrate human skin,” Urban said.
For more information about the Spotted Lanternfly, as well as a link to the sightings form, visit https://agriculture.ny.gov/spottedlanternfly.
Toni-Elena Gallo is a reporter with The SBU Media Group, part of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism’s Working Newsroom program for students and local media.