An undergraduate student recently found a spotted lanternfly in the Fall Creek neighborhood of Ithaca, right below Cornell’s campus. The invasive insect species has never been seen in the Ithaca area before, and its potential for agricultural disaster in the region has prompted New York State officials to arrive in the area to search for eggs and destroy them before a population can grow.
Originally from Asia, the insect was first found in the U.S. in 2014. While the largest populations are in Pennsylvania, the spotted lanternfly has now been found in New Jersey, Ohio and New York.
According to Brian Eshenaur, coordinator of the New York State outreach efforts for the spotted lanternfly, this insect most likely arrived by car.
“[The spotted lanternfly] is not a strong flyer,” Eshenaur said. “In most cases, it’s a hitchhiker.”
While the adults die off in the cold New York winter, the threat is not over. State officials are now combing through the Fall Creek neighborhood, hoping to find all of the eggs before they hatch in the spring. The success of their search will determine whether the spotted lanternfly is able to establish a permanent population in Ithaca.
Although it may be a nuisance in residential areas, causing some early yellowing of trees, the spotted lanternfly is neither harmful to humans nor animals. However, when a population of the spotted lanternfly is able to thrive, the effects for agricultural producers can be devastating.
“We’re really concerned about this from an agricultural aspect, because it can affect grapevines, apple trees and hops,” Eshenaur said. All three of these crops are integral to the Finger Lakes’ agricultural economy. If the flies do take hold in the area, farmers would need to increase their use of pesticides to treat grapes that they plan to harvest. It could also weaken grapevines, ultimately rendering them unusable to vineyard owners.
When traveling to areas where the spotted lanternfly is populous, students should check their cars carefully for egg masses or adult spotted lanternflies so they don’t accidentally bring the insect to a new place,
The search for eggs begins with establishing the perimeter of where potential eggs may be, or how large the outbreak area is, and then slowly combing through it to see how prevalent the population is at the time, getting rid of any egg masses found along the way.
“Our New York State Agriculture and Markets is going to make every effort to hopefully eradicate this population that’s in Tompkins county,” Eshenaur said.
In the spring, officials will reassess and figure out a management plan going forward, depending on how many of the insects were able to hatch. Trying to find the eggs is a long and tedious process because spotted lanternflies lay eggs under rocks, on tree trunks and on branches, sometimes high up in tree canopies.
Since its discovery in Ithaca, both adult spotted lanternflies and eggs have been found, but it is unclear how many more are in Ithaca.
“So far, the evidence points to there not being an established population in Ithaca, but that’s so far,” said Prof. Ann Hajek, entomology.
The adults look particularly unique, donning gray and red wings with black spots. However, before they go through metamorphosis, the young spotted lanternflies are small black and white bugs, making it a challenge to recognize and get rid of them.
Eshenaur is cautiously optimistic about state officials’ ability to eliminate the population in Ithaca.
“The more time we have, the more we can learn from the successes that are taking place in Pennsylvania and that’s been very helpful,” Eshenaur said. “We’re also learning more about biological control. Early on in 2014, we knew very little about this insect, so we’re in a better position than they were when it was first noticed in Pennsylvania.”
Hajek also expressed optimism on the possibility of removing these insects from the Ithaca area.
“I think that [state officials] are really taking it seriously,” Hajek said. “However, the spotted lanternfly is already established in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, both of which are very close. I think it would be really good for people in Ithaca to learn what they look like and to be vigilant if they see one.”