Philly advice for New Yorkers freaking out over spotted lanternflies

Yes, the bugs are back. But we’ve got this.

Spotted Lanternfly Pennsylvania
Matt Rourke / AP Photo
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Okay, okay. We know we said just last month that spotted lanternfly sightings were down across Philadelphia. We even asked experts, and they agreed. Then, September came.

Yes, at least in some neighborhoods, the bugs are here and out in force.

Turns out both viewpoints can be true. “They’re still around, it’s just a matter of where… It really varies site to site,” said Penn State Extension educator Brian Walsh.

“We’ve recorded populations on individual properties being present in the spring, largely absent for a portion of the summer,” Walsh said, “but then adults rapidly returning in high numbers late in the season [September] in time to lay eggs and start the cycle over.”

The variation can happen from neighborhood to neighborhood, and also from region to region. This year, the bugs have spread out of Pennsylvania and into New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, West Virginia, and Ohio.

And regardless of what’s going on in Philly, one thing’s for sure: some of the spotted lanternflies’ new host cities can’t cope.

A recent New York Times article filed under the header “Big City” bore the subtitle: “There’s a new natural predator in New York City, and the government wants us to kill it. Can we summon the resolve?”

Look, Philadelphia has been playing this game for at least two years. It became normal to walk down the street and at any given time, see two or three people looking ridiculous as they stomped around, squashing insects for the good of our environment.

Nowadays, that war is almost passe. Not because we’ve stopped the campaign. It’s definitely ongoing, with buggy corpses still littering the sidewalk, their natural red coloring a poetic stand in for the blood we hoped to shed.

There’s also been a steep decline in reported lanternfly sightings in Philadelphia county. The state has received 1,500 reports of spotted lanternflies here, compared to 14,000 reports this time last year, according to Pa. Department of Agriculture spokesperson Shannon Powers. Powers added, though, that lower numbers are likely the result of reporting fatigue.

But because, well, we’ve got this. We take our bug-squishing mission for granted.

Philadelphia knows how to identify lanternfly life cycles — look out for nymphs starting around May, get ready to start spotting egg masses in the fall and winter — and how to demolish them. We’ve created makeshift traps, experimented with sticky paper around the trees in our own yards, and worked to perfect devices that trapped lanternfly but protected other, noninvasive insects. We’ve also made everything from movies to jewelry inspired by the bugs.

This year, though, other places are collectively losing their minds over this “beautiful” new species invading their space.

Really, it’s the right thing folks are freaking out about the spotted lanternflies. They’re now known to infest 70 plant species, and are especially harmful to grapes and hops.

Most lanternflies we see today are likely in the “gravid” stage of their lifecycle, which means the bugs are pregnant and swollen with around 60 eggs.

In the September edition of the Pa. Department of Agriculture’s spotted lanternfly newsletter (yes, that exists), the agency said it’s seen success with a new treatment method called contact spraying. Scientists are seeing “the number of lanternfly seen in both visual and circle trapping surveys plummeting and staying low.”

So New York City and the rest of the people learning to live with this new plague could learn a lot from us experienced folks. Here are a few more quick tips.

Squish every. Single. Lanternfly.

You know how the saying goes: If you see something, squish something.

Be more prepared next year

The best time of attack is the nymph phase. That’s when the invasive species hasn’t sprouted wings or morphed to its brown-ish color. Instead they’re black or red, spidery, jumpy little things with white dots. It’s too late now, but next year, squish those in advance.

Don’t stop till you’ve scraped all the eggs

There’s still a chance to interrupt another part of the spotted lanternfly life cycle. Right now, the females are pregnant, swollen and oozing a yellow goo from their bellies which… nightmare material. This will continue through November.

The bugs don’t hatch until about May, but from now until then, folks should begin looking for the gray-brownish, goopy looking masses on literally any outdoor surface. Spotted lanternfly will lay upwards of 60 eggs per mass everywhere from tree branches and bark to metal surfaces, lawn furniture, brickwork and cement.

How to destroy the masses, you ask? Well, as we wrote last year:

“Take a plastic card of your choice — your license, a debit or credit card, maybe even a firm business card — and scrape it over the egg mass. Really get in there. You’ll need to see tiny eggs, plus maybe some juices, spill out, to know you’ve finished the job.”

You can also scrape the masses into a baggie of rubbing alcohol. Happy hunting, NYC.

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