Our war on gas spotted lanterns is out of control

If you see a spotted lantern fly, kill it. Immediately. And without hesitation.

It’s our civic duty, according to state officials in New York, Pennsylvania and other states as these invasive species — which are neither flies nor moths but a type of insect known as scale plant — have multiplied in recent years.

The order to kill in plain sight is rooted in a legitimate concern. Spotted lanterns drink the sap of dozens of different plants, including commercial plants such as grapes. They can weaken and sometimes kill crops, putting foods (and the revenue they generate) at risk.

Required poster from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture chirp advance this month.
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

So we trample them. We crush them. We continue to kill the lantern fly bar crawls.

But some people have taken the killing of these winged insects to an extreme. They burned trees with it flame throwersPutting plants in pesticides, homemade mixtures to kill bugs (which kill a lot of other things too).

Experts warn that these extreme efforts are likely to do more harm than good.

“There are people who throw all kinds of pesticides on these guys and don’t follow proper procedures, or they set things on fire to try to get rid of them,” said Ann Johnson, a doctoral researcher at Penn State University who studies spotted lanterns. “You don’t need to be that extreme. You’re probably causing more damage this way.”

Scientists have also learned that lantern flies are not as harmful as once feared, according to Brian Walsh, a gardening teacher at Penn State who has been researching lantern flies for years. The bugs usually don’t kill trees, Johnson said, and aren’t likely to directly harm humans or pets (although there have been some reports of pets becoming nauseous or lethargic after eating them).

This doesn’t mean you should stop crushing on them. It could still help reduce the impact, Johnson said. But in the end, managing the lantern fly problem boils down to something much bigger: restoring the degraded ecosystems that allowed these pests to thrive in the first place.

Unique killing campaign

Spotted lantern fly Native to parts of AsiaIt was first discovered on American soil in the fall of 2014, in eastern Pennsylvania. Because the insect threatens farms and the local environment, the researchers named it “Invasive species‘instead of using the more neutral term ‘non-original’.

Lantern flies have proliferated since then. At least they spread 14 statesfrom Delaware to Indiana, and is now in major cities including New York, Philadelphia and Wilmington (where one has landed, imaginatively, On President Joe Biden). Usually, you will come across one or a handful of them, but they can happen sometimes swarmespecially around some the trees.

New York State Integrated Pest Control Program

Walsh said that when researchers first discovered lantern flies, they thought they might be able to eliminate them from the United States entirely. At the time, people believed that lantern flies depended on one type of tree, biologists could remove, and although they had wings, they couldn’t really fly, he said.

None of these beliefs have been proven correct.

However, Walsh said it was the goal of eradication that fueled the public campaign to kill every single one of them. and messages from that campaign – which attracted a huge amount of media uproar — in turn inspired “a lot of bad deeds,” Walsh said, referring to the strides some people have made to get rid of bugs.

In at least some cases, he said, people in Pennsylvania have run welding torches up and down trees, which can damage plants and other animals that live on them. “Anyone who goes out and buys a propane torch … doesn’t,” Johnson said.

Other people, exacerbated by insects, Walsh said, have doused trees with insecticides and homemade concoctions, some of which include gasoline or dish soap. “Don’t try to make your own formulations,” Johnson said. “A lot of them can harm your plants or kill other things in the area.”

In one case, someone complained to Walsh that spotted lanterns were killing a tree in her yard. Upon closer examination, he realized she had mistakenly sprayed the tree with an herbicide — glyphosate, a powerful chemical designed to kill plants — instead of pesticide, said journalist Abigail Groskin. mentioned for the Atlantic Ocean.

Walsh, who used to run a large landscaping company, also sent complaints from his clients that lantern flies had killed their trees while another invasive species — the emerald ash borer — was likely to blame.

In fact, it is not clear if any efforts by ordinary citizens have helped to stop the spread of lantern flies. “Look, we’re not going to eliminate them,” Walsh said. “We need to look at this as a more chronic problem.”

How bad are these insects, really?

Spotted lanterns can harm trees in many ways. They steal nutrients by sucking up the sap, like parasites, Johnson said, and create holes in the plant through which pathogens can enter. They also secrete a sugary liquid called honey dew while drinking, which can attract sooty mold that can harm plants as well.

Researchers from Pennsylvania have tried to put a number on the potential damage lantern flies can cause. in study It was published a few years ago, and they concluded that lantern flies could cost the Pennsylvania economy at least $324 million annually, and possibly more than $500 million annually, if the insects were not curbed.

Spotted lanterns on a tree in Township District, Pennsylvania.
Harold Hoch/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

last talk study A link was found between lantern fly infestations in vineyards and reduced grape production and the health of vineyards in the Northeast. There is, too Reports From lantern flies it kills entire vineyards.

Aside from their effect on vineyards, Walsh said, spotted lanterns are not as harmful to commercial crops and forests as scientists once feared. “They don’t destroy all of our crops,” he said of invasive species.

Another important point here: Ecosystems are complex, so introducing a new species can have all kinds of unexpected effects.

The aphids produced by lantern flies, for example, may be a food source for honeybees and other nectar-seeking insects. One company in Pennsylvania has even started selling honey with a unique flavor apparently influenced by the spotted lantern, called Dom Plum, according to reporter Alexandra Jones. Wrote For Atlas Obscura.

Mantis are among the many predators known for hunting and eating spotted lanterns.
Courtesy of Jeffrey W. Doelp

Johnson’s research also showed that a number of predators, from birds to small mammals, feed on lantern flies. One complicating factor is that the tree of paradise, a favorite of the lantern fly, produces a host of toxins that can end up in the lanterns and their honey energy. Johnson is doing research to understand whether predators tend to avoid eating lanterns that feed on the tree of life.

A problem of our own making

The spotted lantern fly is a problem because we brought it here (most likely as eggs On the shipment of cut stone). The introduction of non-native species is an unfortunate and common side effect of globalization.

But that’s just part of the story. Not only are lantern flies here in the United States, they are able to thrive—in part due to broader environmental disruptions.

The tree that lantern flies seem most attracted to is the tree of paradise, which is from Asia and is actually another invasive species. The lantern fly uses the tree for feeding, often laying its eggs on its bark. The tree of paradise grows easily in urban environments where other trees have been felled, such as along railroads. By changing ecosystems, humans have allowed the Tree of Heaven to reproduce, which now helps maintain lantern populations.

These invasive insects also face little competition for food and fewer predators. Both are citizens the birds And the insects It has declined significantly over the past several decades, in large part due to the destruction of ecosystems.

So, eventually, to control the lanterns, humans may have to restore ecosystems. That could mean getting rid of other invasive species and planting native trees and other plants that attract predatory birds and local bugs, Johnson said. A fully restored ecosystem is likely to be more resistant to spotted lantern fly infestations.

Then again, we’re not likely to completely eradicate lantern flies—it’s rare to completely eradicate any invasive species. Instead, we will have to learn to live with them, just as we do with more than 6000 Species that are not native to the United States. This means more crush. More catching. more scraping eggs. Though, in any case, a flamethrower is not the answer.

Kim Maas contributed to this article.

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