The spotted lanternfly is about an inch long and half an inch wide. The forewings are gray with black spots. When flying, it exposes its red and black hind wings. The lanternfly has a black head, black legs and a yellow abdomen with black bands.
The spotted lanternfly feeds on plants by sucking out the sap from leaves, stems or trunks. It sucks in more sap than it can handle and excretes most of it. That excretion, called "honeydew," can grow mold or attract other insects, further damaging the tree. Both nymphs and adults can cause damage to plants.
The bright colors and spots on the wings of the spotted lanternfly are intended to warn off potential predators. Because it is an invasive species, there are few natural predators in the Chesapeake region. There have been reports of general predators like spiders eating spotted lanternflies, but they are not having any substantial impact on lanternfly populations.
Adult spotted lanternflies do have wings and are capable of flight, but are generally weak fliers. They are part of a group of insects known as planthoppers, which jump from plant to plant rather than flying.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
Spotted lanternflies go through their lifecycle within one year. Eggs hatch around May. The newly-hatched nymphs (immature spotted lanternflies) go through four stages, or instars, before reaching adult maturity in July. The nymphs are wingless and shaped like a stinkbug. In the first three instar stages, the nymphs are black with white spots.
They change to red with black spots in their fourth instar stage. Once reaching adulthood, they will mate and begin to lay eggs in late summer. They may continue laying eggs through November. The eggs, which are tan and seed-like, are covered in a muddy-looking secretion, forming a brown mass on trees, furniture, stones and other inanimate object. The eggs remain through the winter and will hatch the following spring. Adults do not survive the winter.
Did You Know?
- Lanternflies in the nymph stage will often go up and down the host plant daily to feed, making it possible to catch them with sticky bands on the side of the tree. This method does not tend to work for adults.
- Because they cause extensive damage to native trees, spotted lanternflies are a threat to many local industries, including timber, orchards and vineyards. They are particularly dangerous for vineyards, as lanternfly damage in one part of the crop can taint the rest.
- To try to combat the spread of the spotted lanternfly, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture asks that residents scrape off and properly dispose of any egg masses they see. Residents of areas with spotted lanternfly should also check any equipment or gear to ensure they are free of egg masses before moving it. Learn more about preventing the spread of invasive species.
Sources and Additional Information
- Forest Invasives: Spotted Lanternfly – Invasive Species Centre
- Spotted Lanternfly – Penn State Extension
- Spotted Lanternfly Factsheet – New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
- Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment: Spotted Lanternfly – UMass Extension