Small Squashes, Bigger Impact: Spotted Lanternflies in Cleveland

You may have heard about it, you may have seen social media posts or warnings at your local garden center, but it’s here: the dreaded Spotted Lanternfly! This invasive species (Lycorma delicatula) appeared near the CSWCD offices in downtown Cleveland. Our staff has been tackling the population as best we can, and it’s important that all residents of Northeast Ohio understand the threat this species poses and how to keep it under control.

The Spotted Lanternfly has been found in Ohio since 2020, and its reach is spreading. Originally from Asia and likely arriving here accidentally on imported goods, this flying insect can be identified according its different appearance in each life stage (see photos). Egg masses can look like clay smeared on tree branches - scrap those off whenever you might see them in the spring. Once there are nymphs (juveniles) it’s best to either squish them, spray them with a soap and water mix, or suck them up into a water bottle by just holding up the bottle to the bug, squeezing the bottle slightly and then letting go. That’s exactly how our staff members tackled the infestation near our office.

So what’s the big deal? Why is this bug so bad? A few reasons:

1) Damaging plants: Spotted Lanternflies feed indiscriminately on a huge variety of plants, including garden plants, trees, ornamentals, and crops. This damage weakens the plants and makes them vulnerable to other insects, pests, and diseases. Spotted Lanternflies have been responsible for huge amounts of deforestation, which weakens ecosystems and greatly reduces local biodiversity.

2) Honeydew: Spotted Lanternflies are also one of the insects that produce a sugary substance known as “honeydew”. Honeydew on its own isn’t damaging, but a type of fungus called “sooty mold” grows on honeydew, which forms a black or gray layer of mold on the surface of the affected plant. That layer blocks sunlight and starves the plant. The best way to prevent this is to address the underlying cause – kill the spotted Lanternflies.

3) Effect on Humans: Spotted Lanternflies tend to swarm and congregate in large numbers, making the areas around them stick and unpleasant from their honeydew excretions – a real nuisance for you in your backyard, diminishing your quality of life.

How can we fight back? Learn how to identify these invasive pests – including their molts and egg masses, which you may see before you see a live bug. If you’re sure you’ve found some, report the sightings to local agricultural authorities (search the internet for “ODA: Ohio Plant Pest Reporter” and fill out the form). Do not wrap trees with sticky bands that will trap nymphs and adults, as these can trap native birds, snakes, and other predators that would kill the spotted lanternfly. You can use insecticides, but remember to follow all guidelines and precautions on the label and local ordinances (and never spray insecticides when there is rain predicted in the next 24 hours).

Most importantly, remove any and all Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima). This invasive tree is a host plant for Spotted Lanternfly, and removing these trees can greatly reduce the Spotted Lanternfly population in your area. Unfortunately the use of herbicide is often necessary for killing Tree-of-Heaven. More detail on how to kill Tree-of-Heaven can be found here - it's a tricky tree to kill and make sure to stick with it to ensure the stump is dead. The native grape vine (Vitis riparia) is also a favorite of the Spotted Lanternfly, but only remove those if they are a nuisance.

Invasive pests like Spotted Lanternfly are a pressing concern, but by understanding the impact and taking effective measures to counteract their presence we can protect our environment. Join our staff in checking your local trees and help us beat this bug!

Blog author: Meg Hennessey, Watershed Coordinator

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