If you see a spotted lanternfly, squish or stomp it. That has been the advice of agriculture departments across the northeastern United States as this invasive insect species threatens crops and trees.
Spotted lanternflies (Lycorma delicatula) don’t hurt humans or animals. But scientists say these bugs could have devastating effects on agriculture and the economy. Researchers from Penn State University estimated that the spotted lanternfly could cost Pennsylvania $324 million each year because of its destructive impact on agriculture and forestry.
Native to China, these red, black, and white spotted bugs were first identified in Pennsylvania in 2014. They have since traveled to 11 other states including New York, New Jersey, and Virginia.
“It’s spreading like a wildfire, so it’s pretty concerning,” Josephine Antwi, PhD, an entomologist and professor of biology at the University of Mary Washington, told Verywell.
Although spotted lanternflies are not known to bite or harm humans, they can still be a nuisance. Anne Souder, 30, a professional dancer and educator, said she encountered these bugs while teaching an outdoor workshop in an infested part of Pennsylvania last summer.
“Lanternflies were all over the stage. They would land on you and would have to be swept off the studio space after every class,” she said.
While spotted lanternfly swarms might be annoying, experts say the real reason to kill these bugs is to protect the plants they feed on.
Spotted lanternflies use their “piercing-sucking mouthpart” to extract the nutrient-rich sap out of plants. Apples, grapes, hops, cherries, and maple trees are among the more than 70 plant species they feed on.
This feeding process causes stress, which could weaken or potentially kill the crops. After feeding on the sap, the lanternflies release honeydew, a sticky and sugary residue that provides a breeding ground for microbes like black sooty mold, Antwi said. The black mold can end up covering the green parts of the plants that are necessary for photosynthesis.
“When they turn that color, the plant health just drops eventually. And if the plant doesn’t recover, it just dies,” Antwi said.
Several states have encouraged residents to stomp spotted lanternflies on sight. But these bugs can jump or fly when approached, so stomping might be difficult.
Liv Volker, a healthcare worker in Pennsylvania, is known for her lanternfly squishing campaign on TikTok. Volker, who named her TikTok account @Livanysquisher, told Verywell that she often uses a Starbucks Frappuccino cup or something similar to trap the bugs, and then freezes them and throws them away.
Circle traps and sticky tree tape can also be used to catch lanternflies. If you’re using the tape, experts recommend installing a wildlife barrier since birds and other animals can accidentally get stuck.
Removing egg masses, which look like patches of mud, is another crucial way to slow the infestation. Lanternflies lay eggs from September to December and they start hatching in April. These bugs prefer to lay eggs on the tree of heaven, but the egg masses can also be found on cars, outdoor furniture, and other types of trees. You can add soapy water, alcohol, or hand sanitizer into a container and scrape the eggs into it with a stick or plastic card.
Some states have established quarantine zones as another way to contain the infestation. While the spotted lanternflies can’t fly very far, they can hitch a ride on cars and can survive speeds up to 65 mph. Anyone traveling through a quarantine zone should check their car for bugs or egg masses to avoid bringing these bugs to unaffected areas.
Although state governments are asking locals to help out by stomping lanternflies and removing egg masses, some people may feel like their individual efforts won’t make a big difference.
“Squashing the lanternfly is a fun catharsis, but feels like a drop in the bucket. There are always more lanternflies when I come back outside and there are dozens that I can’t reach,” Jake Gabbard, 30, a video journalist based in New Jersey, told Verywell.
But local authorities are employing larger efforts to control the infestation. “During the winter, we also had spotted lanternfly crews scrape or treat approximately 300,000 egg masses,” the New Jersey Department of Agriculture told Verywell in a statement. Each egg mass can hatch up to 50 new nymphs, according to the department.
The NJ Department of Agriculture said they’re also working with the USDA to assess and treat major transportation corridors to cut down on the number of hitchhiking bugs.
In the meantime, experts recommend continuing to stomp on the lanternflies. “If you stomp on one, you are potentially stomping on about 30 to 50 individuals next year that would otherwise hatch out from an egg,” Antwi said.
The USDA is encouraging people to report spotted lanternfly sightings to their state’s department of agriculture. You can also use this USDA checklist to help identify spotted lanternflies in their different life stages.