By Pamela Hahn - March 2021
Have you heard of the spotted lantern fly, otherwise known as SLF? No? Well, it’s time to get familiar with this beast of an insect that is both beautiful to behold and extremely damaging to trees and agricultural crops. The SLF is an invasive species native to Southeast Asia that feeds on the sap of more than 70 species of plants. They were first discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014.
The SLF was found in Frederick County, Virginia in 2018 and has spread rapidly in the past two years. According to Eric Day, a Virginia Cooperative Entomologist, infestations of the spotted lantern fly in “Virginia went from 1 square mile in 2018 to over 60 square miles in 2020.”
The SLF is a very real threat to Virginia farmers as it likes to feed on grapes, peaches and hops as well as on many native trees, including pine, maple, walnut and oak. According to residents of Pennsylvania, the spotted lantern fly, which is not harmful to people, can become a real nuisance. When the insects feed, they excrete a sticky substance which can coat any surfaces the SLF contacts - imagine your docks and decks covered in a substance called “honeydew” that encourages a black sooty mold to grow. Gross!
The preferred host of the SLF is another invasive species - the tree of heaven. While I am not a huge proponent of killing trees, I am willing to make an exception in this case as any trees or crops that are in the vicinity of a tree of heaven become fair game to the SLF. For detailed instructions on how to ensure the demise of your tree of heaven please see this Virginia Department of Agriculture explanation.
Entomologists across the country are asking residents to become proactive and look for these insects on their property. While it may not be possible to completely eradicate the spotted lantern fly, we must try to slow its spread. You can check out pictures and more information from Virginia Tech about the spotted lantern fly here.