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Spotted Lanternfly
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Spotted lanternflies will still be a problem this fall—here’s how to kill the invasive bug

See something? Squish something!

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver
Christina Izzo

Yes, the battle of the spotted lanternflies continues. The invasive species has been, well, spotted all around the city this summer and, unfortunately for New York residents, it looks like they're going to still be a bugger even into the fall. 

While the name "spotted lanternfly" sounds like it's a cute and harmless little bug, the critter can actually be very devastating to our ecosystem and agriculture here in the U.S. And now, having invaded Pennsylvania first in 2014, they've officially taken up residency in New York. 

Here’s what to know about the spotted lanternfly, and why you're very much encouraged to kill 'em. 

Where does the spotted lanternfly come from?

Native to China, these little suckers (literally, they suck out plant juices) hopped aboard some shipment to Pennsylvania in 2014 and they’ve been making moves in the northeast ever since. 2020 was the first year they were spotted in NYC (in Staten Island, specifically) but now they’re being spotted everywhere across the boroughs—near the Barclays Center, in Prospect Park, in Central Park, on the High Line, on Randall’s Island and even in private home gardens.

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What is a spotted lanternfly?

The bug is actually not a fly but is more closely related to the cicada.

What does a spotted lanternfly look like?

Adult spotted lanternflies are approximately one-inch long and ½-inch wide at rest, with eye-catching wings. Their forewings are grayish with black spots. The lower portions of their hindwings are red with black spots and the upper portions are dark with a white stripe.

What do spotted lanternfly eggs look like?

Their egg masses, which can be found on pretty much anything from tree trunks and rocks to cars and firewood, look like dried chewing gum. They are smooth and brownish-gray with a shiny, waxy coating when first laid. Horrifically, females can lay multiple egg masses a year, from July to September. In Pennsylvania's infestation, it was about 200 eggs per tree.

What do lanternflies do?

They suck on the sap of more than 70 species of plants including native trees like oak and maple but also the invasive Chinese sumac (the Ailanthus altissima, aka Tree of Heaven). Their feeding stresses the plants and makes them vulnerable to disease and attacks from other insects.

"These bugs are kind of remarkable. It's a beautiful insect, so it's a shame we have to kill them."

It's not only trees that are in danger either—grapes, apples and other fruits can also be targeted, which in turn causes economic damage to those industries by destroying the crops or leaving marks on fruit so that farmers cannot sell them, according to Dr. Jessica Ware, an assistant curator in invertebrate zoology at the American Museum of Natural History.

“We may not have a lot of direct crops here in New York City, but we all like to drink grape juice, wine, eat apples,” she tells us, adding that many of these crops are grown upstate. “Any population we have of the lanternfly can at the source ultimately have an impact on our agriculture. These bugs are kind of remarkable. It's a beautiful insect, so it's a shame we have to kill them."

That's right. We have to kill them. Otherwise, they could continue to spread westward and reach California, where there could be "pretty serious devastating economic events," Dr. Ware says.

What to know about spotted lanternflies in the fall?

The spotted lanternfly might now be synonymous with summertime in these parts, but it'll still pose a nuisance in the autumn. Adults lay eggs in mid-to-late September and those babies can withstand the New York cold in a way that their parents cannot, so also be sure to destroy the egg mass so that you don't have a whole new generation to deal with come spring. (Simply scrape the egg mass off whatever surface it's clinging to and destroy it in a bucket of hand sanitizer or alcohol, the pros advise.) 

As for the adult-stage lanternflies, you'll still be seeing them around town through November, or depending when the first frost hits the city. So get your squish on!

How do you kill a spotted lanternfly?

Speaking of, don’t feel bad about squishing them—you’re doing the right thing. City officials say that if the spotted lanternfly population isn't controlled locally, it could cost the New York economy $300 million a year, reports ABC 7. So NYC residents are actually being given permission to squash as many of them as we can to help prevent this and avoid using insecticide on a mass scale, which poses its own risks. 

If you see it, squish it! They tend to jump forward so it is hard to catch them, Dr. Ware says. 

“The first time I squished one — and I have killed a lot of insects in my life — and even for me, that was gross,” she adds. “Since they drink plant juice, it’s like squishing a grape. There’s gooey liquid inside of them. It’s a juicy insect, so just be prepared for that.”

If that isn’t gross enough, the best way to get rid of them is to find them before they hatch.

Dr. Ware says to destroy them by placing them in double bags and kill them with alcohol before putting them in the garbage. You can also treat your trees with insecticide and check around before you travel anywhere. 

"Beware, they're very good hitchhikers," she said. "Be sure that if you're traveling anywhere, that you're not taking them with you. We are seeing them move further and further west because they hang on to cars and belongings. Check your car before you take off somewhere."

If you find these bugs (and hopefully squish them), you can report your sighting to and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets here. If you do, include photos.

Let's end this creepy-crawly nightmare!

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