Why the spotted lanternfly could be big trouble for Philly

As if there weren’t enough things to worry about, add the spotted lanternfly to the list. The invasive species of insect has been spotted in Pennsylvania since 2014 and with each year, as populations grow, the threat to local trees is growing. That has arborists like Jason Parker of the Davey Tree Expert Company concerned.

“The number of insects hasn’t gotten totally out of control yet, but it’s growing very quickly,” said Parker, district manager of the Davey company’s Horsham office and a certified arborist and tree-care safety professional. “The potential for it to grow quickly expands exponentially as they continue to reproduce.”

First spotted in Berks County in 2014, the spotted lanternfly has now been spotted in 14 counties of Pennsylvania, and has been found in New York, Delaware and Virginia. In addition to targeting deciduous trees, it destroys grapes, hops and lumber, so it could potentially cause an economic crisis in the Keystone State. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) gave Pennsylvania $17.5 million in funding to fight the pest earlier this year.

In addition to killing crops, lanternflies cause structural damage to trees, killing them faster when powerful storms come through.

Since May — warming months are when eggs typically hatch — Parker said he has urged his customers to apply pesticides now to reduce local populations. One female can lay over 100 eggs. While not all customers want to use pesticides, alternative natural methods could involve removing potential homes for the spotted lanternfly, like the ailanthus tree, or “tree of heaven.”

“If you get it in the earliest stage, perhaps the homeopathic method would be effective. But at this point, we’re three years into an infestation,” Parker said. “They’ve been able to keep them away from crops so far, but once there’s a certain number of them around, it’s not going to matter, you’re not going to be able to contain them.”

The spotted lanternfly originates in China, India and Vietnam. It’s unknown exactly how it got to the mainland U.S., although the species may have hitched a ride aboard goods being shipped from that region. But the natural predators who keep its population under control at home don’t exist in the Phily area, Parker said.

The lanternfly is similar in threat to the emerald ash borer, another tree-killing, invasive insect species that has recently appeared in the region and has begun to multiply, although Parker conceded the borer is killing trees faster.

The leaf-hopping wingless insects may not seem intimidating to residential homeowners, like those who may have seen them in northern Montgomery County, but they’re still something that needs to be addressed, Parker said.

“You’re going to have hundreds or thousands of these things on your trees, and it looks like the bark is alive because there’s so many of them clumped on your trees,” he said. “Nobody wants that when you’re having a party outside during the summer.”

Residents who see invasive species like the emerald ash borer or spotted lanternfly are urged to alert state authorities by calling 1-866-253-7189 or by emailing [email protected].

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