They’re back and hungry! First spotted lanternfly nymph found in Philadelphia

A closeup of a spotted lanternfly

This Sept. 19, 2019, file photo, shows a spotted lanternfly at a vineyard in Kutztown, Pa. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

It’s that time of year. The Keystone State’s first spotted lanternfly nymph made an appearance in West Philadelphia on Tuesday. This means gray egg sacks clinging to Pennsylvania’s trees are about to let loose a wave of critters, in batches of 30 or 50, ready to feed on their hosts.

And don’t expect the newborns to follow social distancing rules.

“We need every Pennsylvanian to keep their eyes peeled for this bad bug. We can’t let our guard down,” said state Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, as he once again asked residents to do their part and kill the pests.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture employee spotted this year’s first confirmed freshly hatched nymph — meaning it hadn’t yet developed its trademark red wings and black spots — in University City.

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Plaguing Pennsylvania since 2014, these nymphs will grow into their wings and threaten state agriculture, including vineyards and the timber industry, with their “honeydew” — an ironic nickname for their sap-like waste which attracts “sooty” mold.

The holes lanternflies leave behind after feeding on trees and crops can leave “weeping” wounds where sap drips out. The leakage attracts insects that can [stimulate] the mold’s growth.

A 2020 study pegged the potential economic damage caused by these pests across several Pennsylvania industries at $50 million annually.

They also have no respect for personal space, as seen by their Philly invasion last year. Homeowners couldn’t swat the hoppers off porches and decks fast enough and pedestrians had to duck to avoid a lanternfly face smack.

Heather Leach, who helps educate communities about the pest’s dangers for the PennState Extension, said it’s hard to get an accurate count of the population, but experts expect spotted lanternflies to return in healthy numbers this year after a mild winter.

The southern part of the state will likely see the first signs of the invasion where Leach said there’s “more warmth, especially in the city where we have sort of a microclimate and keep these eggs a little bit warmer and encourage them to hatch earlier.”

The invasive species from Southeast Asia has led to a different kind of quarantine in 26 of the state’s 67 counties, the majority in the southeastern part of the state.

As adults, the lanternflies have the tendency to hitch rides — they prefer to hop — whether it’s on international shipments or cars traveling to a neighboring county.

This has prompted bold measures from the Department of Agriculture.

Businesses that need to ship materials or have to move vehicles out of a quarantined county are required to apply for a special spotted lanternfly permit.

Applicants have to take a two-hour online course where they learn about the pest’s life cycle, how to kill it and best practices to prevent introducing the lanternfly to a non-quarantined area.

Businesses that fail to comply can get up to a $300 criminal citation or up to $20,000 for a civil penalty.

Still, the Department of Agriculture and lanternfly experts are reminding residents that once the spotted lanternfly grows into its wings, it becomes much harder to destroy.

“The problem is because it doesn’t belong here, it doesn’t have any natural enemies or basically predators that kind of help keep its populations in check and so those populations have completely exploded,” Leach said.

Until university studies point to a suitable solution – preferably not wasps – officials say the best thing residents can do right now is scrape entire egg sacks off trees with a credit card or similar scraper. Wrapping trees with sticky bands of tape is another great way to trap nymphs, which are the size of a pencil tip at this stage and hard to spot.

“Let’s use this time at home to make a positive impact on Spotted Lanternfly this season; scrape and destroy any remaining egg masses you find and band your trees now,” Redding said.

To learn how to properly take part in getting rid of this invasive species, check out Billy Penn’s guide to the best quarantine activity.

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