The spotted lanternfly (SLF), or Lycorma delicatula, more commonly known as “planthopper,” was first discovered in the United States in September 2014 in a quarry in Berks County, Pa. Over the past six years, it has spread through at least eight more states: Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. The SLF is indigenous to parts of China, Vietnam and Taiwan, spreading invasively to Japan, South Korea and now the U.S.

This planthopper could potentially affect grapevines, berry plants, peaches and cherries but prefers the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) as its host. As it feeds on plants, the SLF excretes honeydew that builds up on the host plant and is attractive to other pests like ants, flies, bees and wasps. This honeydew promotes the growth of sooty mold, which can cover the plant and its undergrowth. Because of the SLF’s large size and tendency to fly or glide in the general direction of homeowners and rest on their homes, the pest has placed pressure on the structural pest management industry to come up with a solution to keep customers happy but stay within licensing restrictions. Education has been the leading path for PCOs to help customers resolve their SLF concerns, while treatment options are limited and/or ineffective but continue to advance.

QUARANTINE ZONES. Pennsylvania deemed the SLF a quarantine pest to help slow its spread. The quarantine zone has grown over the past six years through most of eastern Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh and surrounding states. Other states have adopted the same approach, either creating their own quarantine zones or leaning on Pennsylvania’s data as a resource for their populations. The quarantine prohibits movement of the SLF at all life stages. It requires commercial companies to obtain permits and perform self-inspections of vehicles and equipment if moving in or out of the quarantine zone, with threat of violations to those that intentionally move SLF out of the zone. It also includes educating homeowners and requiring businesses to educate their staff on how to handle SLF at each life stage. This quarantine approach, in conjunction with social media news spread, has quickly educated most homeowners on the identification of the SLF, its problematic nature and possible home remedies.

ERADICATION. Licensing requirements and lack of control options have left PCOs and homeowners with questions on eradication outside of swatting or scraping. With some hosts being edible or flowering plants, broad application of pesticides would put many pollinators at risk and make homeowners wary of treating gardens. Like most obstacles we encounter, we have adapted, and many firms and suppliers have accrued the appropriate licensing, training and supplies to attack the SLF with systemic pesticide applications directly to the host plants through topical applications or root injections. However, some companies have taken the approach of educating the homeowner and advising removal of host plants while treating the pest as an occasional invader in the home.

These spotted lanternfly (SLF) photos were taken in the author’s backyard in Croydon, Pa. Clockwise from top: spotted lanternfly adult; SLF nymph; and a collage of three SLF egg masses.
Courtesy of Rob Byer

Some homemade control practices used in the beginning of the SLF spread have proven to do more harm than good. These practices include wrapping trees with exposed glue, which has left bats, birds and other off-target pests without escape, causing their eventual demise. Trapping efforts continue to evolve with a sounder approach of offering non-targets an opportunity to escape or avoid traps altogether. Researchers at Penn State reported that they are “cautiously optimistic” about the use of biopesticides in SLF control. Researchers are using fungi found naturally in soil called Batkoa major and Beauveria bassiana. Beauveria is already found in some EPA-approved biopesticides. These fungi, when used as biopesticides, could prove to be an option for PCOs to add to their arsenal of products to combat the SLF with limited impact on the environment.

BIOLOGY. The SLF goes through gradual metamorphosis with four instar stages before becoming an adult planthopper. It has one generation per year overwintering as egg masses. Egg masses range from ½ inch to 1½ inches and are grayish brown. The masses should be scraped into a bag containing rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer and disposed. (This technique is recommended in the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s SLF quarantine guidelines.) Egg masses can be found from October through June.

The first, second and third nymph instars are black with white polka dots and range in size from a ¼ to ½ inch in size. These instars can be found from May through July. The fourth nymph instars acquire a reddish color on their heads, thoraxes and abdomens. They are ½ inch in size and are found in July through September. You may notice the wing pads in this stage. The adults have wings, which are brown with black dots, and hind wings that are red and black with a white stripe through the center. Adults have red eyes and are roughly 1 inch in size.

ADVANCEMENTS. Having customers catch and “smush” SLFs can be quite difficult since the pests hop away quickly. Some approaches are quite interesting, such as using handheld vacuums, salt guns, fly swatters and even scent dogs to help locate and kill SLFs. Whether or not you decide to offer services for this quarantine pest, the advances in control options remain interesting and diverse, such as early spring root injection with a systemic pesticide like imidacloprid, with follow-up topical applications to infected plant surfaces throughout the summer and care taken to avoid pollinators.

FINAL THOUGHTS. As you decide whether to add SLF services to your offerings, keep in mind licensing in your state, the safety of your team, the efficacy of your service and the profitability of your offering.

Rob Byer, A.C.E./P.H.E., is a quality and compliance manager for Terminix International. His career with the firm spans more than 20 years.