Spotted Lanternfly: What You Need to Know

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A recent news release from the NCDA&CS notified the public that the spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) has officially been detected in North Carolina. The news release comes after the spotted lanternfly’s presence in Forsyth County was confirmed. The invasive pest was first found to be in Pennsylvania in 2014, where its invasion has been closely monitored. You might recall in 2021 when it was discovered in Hillsville, Virginia, less than 20 miles from the NC state line. Here’s what you need to know about the spotted lanternfly.

What’s the importance of this pest?

 The spotted lanternfly doesn’t just attack our plants; it attacks the economy. They damage more than 100 species of plants. Vineyards, orchards, plant nurseries, and timberland are all at risk for the most damage from the spotted lanternfly, but other plant industries may be affected as well. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture estimates that if no intervention took place, the pest would have cost the industry $324 million and nearly 3,000 jobs in their state, which is ground zero for the pest’s invasion. The spotted lanternfly sucks fluid from the stems of the host plant, which stresses the plant, sometimes leading to its death. In vineyards, where this pest can be most destructive, there have been reports of 90% crop losses, and they can even kill grapevines. There are ongoing research efforts to learn more about the pest’s behavior, biology, host plants, and more.

How can I positively identify the spotted lanternfly if I think I have found one?

The pest can be identified in one of three stages: egg, nymph, or adult. There are some lookalikes, so if you’re unsure, the NCDA&CS is asking you to submit suspected spotted lanternfly sightings to them using their online form. You can also contact your local Cooperative Extension office for help.

During the egg stage, the spotted lanternfly looks like dried mud, and freshly laid eggs can have a shine to them. Each egg mass will contain about 30-50 eggs and will measure about 1 ½” by ½”. Eggs will be noticeable in late summer or from fall to spring in NC. The eggs are laid by adults (see below for identification) and overwinter on the surface on which they are laid. Sometimes they are laid on man-made objects like cars, which allows the pest to be unintentionally transported.

egg mass from spotted lanternfly appears on bark of tree.

Image taken June 2020 in NC by: Joy Goforth, NCDA&CS Plant Industry Division.

This is what an egg mass from the spotted lanternfly looks like on a tree. Note how well they can blend in (above).

egg mass on tree from spotted lanternfly appears like dried mud when unhatched.

Kenneth R. Law, USDA APHIS PPQ, Bugwood.org

This is a photo of eggs that have not hatched yet. Notice how they appear almost like dried mud (above).

After the eggs have overwintered, they will hatch in the spring to early summer into nymphs, which are easily distinguished with their unique markings. They may look slightly different at certain times of the year due to their different instar stages. In stages 1-3, they are black with white dots. In the 4th stage, they become red with black lines and white dots. Reports also state that the nymphs jump to avoid danger, which could be an indicator if you see them.

Spotted lanterfly appears as a small black insect with black dots as a nymph.

Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org

This is what the spotted lanternfly will look like in the first 3 of its nymphal stages (instars). In this stage, they are reported to evade danger by jumping (above).

An older nymph of spotted lanternfly will develop a reddish hue along with the black under-marking and white dots.

Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org

This is the 4th and final instar of the spotted lanternfly’s nymphal development. Note the red areas that are developed on the insect’s body (above).

The adult spotted lanternfly has reportedly been mistaken for a moth, so the next time you see a moth, take another look! Adults are distinguished by their gray/brown forewings, which have black dots. Hindwings have red and black patches with splotches of white that are hidden beneath the forewings when at rest. In the adult stage, they feed on plants, then mate and lay eggs. Adults use their mouthparts to suck fluids from the leaves of host plants. They then secrete a substance called honeydew, which attracts other nuisance species like yellowjackets and wasps. Honeydew also facilitates the growth of sooty mold. The adult stage likely occurs in NC from June through November.

Adult spotted lanternfly usually keep their wings folded in. Wings are transparent with black dots.

Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org

At rest, this is what an adult spotted lanternfly looks like. They are known to jump and use their wings to glide when danger is presented (above).

With their wings expanded spotted lanterfly are colorful insects with red, white, and black markings and black dots all over.

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org

This is what an adult looks like with its wings expanded (above).

What can I do to reduce the spread of the spotted lanternfly?

Heavily infested states like Pennsylvania have quarantines in place that residents and business owners must follow. The quarantine aims to reduce the migration of the pest via man-made objects by regulating the movement of said objects. Read more about Pennsylvania’s quarantine.

The movement of the spotted lanternfly usually happens inadvertently. It can be spread by transporting plant material such as firewood or on the sides of outdoor vehicles or equipment such as RVs and lawnmowers. Therefore, you should “look before you leave” to make sure no spotted lanternfly at any of its life stages is present. You should also be careful when purchasing firewood or other plant material (live or dead). Inspect the plant material to ensure no spotted lanternflies are hitching a ride. If you burn firewood, you should source it within 50 miles of where it will be transported. If you must transport the firewood farther than 50 miles, purchase heat-treated firewood. Other man-made items like barrels can harbor the pest, so it is a good policy in general when transporting items to check for the spotted lanternfly.

I think I’ve found the spotted lanternfly at my house or farm. What next?

If you believe you have discovered the spotted lanternfly, report it to the NCDA using their online reporting system at ncagr.gov/slf. The NCDA&CS will promptly reply to your submission and may reach out for additional details. You can also contact your local Cooperative Extension office.

Additional Resources:

USDA Aphis Website on SLF

NCDA&CS Website on SLF

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Page on SLF

NCDA&CS Press Release on SLF in Forsyth County