UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With Labor Day come and gone, many people are starting to dread the thought of cold temperatures and snowy days to come.
Yet, for some folks living in the southeastern part of Pennsylvania, Old Man Winter cannot come soon enough so they can have a reprieve, albeit a brief one, from the spotted lanternfly, the invasive pest that has marred their spring and summer outings.
"The spotted lanternfly has become a regular fixture in their yards, on the front page of their newspapers, in their social media feeds and, sometimes, even in their dreams," said Heather Leach, Penn State's spotted lanternfly extension associate, who has fielded calls from hundreds of frazzled homeowners in the current 13-county quarantine zone. "They just cannot get a break."
The pest, which feeds on the sap of fruit trees, grapevines, hops, hardwoods and ornamentals, strikes a double whammy — not only does it harm host plants but it also can render outdoor areas unusable by leaving behind a sugary excrement called honeydew, which attracts other insects and promotes the growth of sooty mold. The only consolation is that the insects do not bite or sting, nor do they cause structural damage.
Despite not being a native species (they are native to central Asia), the climate in Pennsylvania is suitable for the spotted lanternfly, and it has established a life cycle that completes one generation each year. It all begins now, in late summer, when adults mate and lay eggs — gray-colored, flat clusters that resemble mud — on a variety of surfaces.
While those adults do not survive the winter, the same does not hold true for their egg masses, which are hardy enough to withstand brutal weather conditions. Those eggs hatch in late spring, revealing nymphs with black and white spots. As they enter their "teens," most of the insect's black markings will turn red.
By mid-summer, the insects will be adults, measuring about an inch in length and sporting artfully patterned wings of red, black, white and tan, accented by dots. Throughout the transformation, one thing remains constant — their voracious appetite, and that has homeowners scrambling to find ways to control the clusters that have taken up residence on their properties.