The spotted lantern fly, an invasive species that feeds on plants and trees, has made its way to Long Island’s North Shore.
The species has been the focus of recent media attention and Sea Cliff’s Village Board discussed the issue at their Sept. 5 meeting.
The focus was on how to limit the spread of the invasive insects, specifically the lantern flies’ attraction to “trees of heaven,” a species of tree native to China, the origin of lantern flies, but which has also been brought to Long Island. The board discussed potentially ripping up the trees, which board member Mark Sobel said was the recommendation of state and environmental organizations.
However, the board ultimately decided that measure would not be a realistic one, as without cross-municipality cooperation to ensure the removal of all the trees in all nearby villages, and even if the trees were removed it would be no guarantee that the lantern flies would die out. The board instead discussed making more information available.
“Anyone that sees a lantern fly is supposed to contact the DEC directly,” Bruce Kennedy, the village administrator, said. “That way the DEC can see that there’s a real issue here, and maybe they can start to do something about it.”
To contact the DEC, email firstname.lastname@example.org with a photo of the insect or egg masses seen, along with the exact location, such as the address, intersecting roads or other landmarks. For more information, visit dec.ny.gov/animals/113303.html.
Donna Moramarco, the director of horticulture for the Planting Fields Foundation, explained that the spotted lantern fly poses a particular threat to agricultural crops as well, as they feed on crops such as hops, grapes, apples and other fruits, many of which are grown on Long Island and throughout the state. In addition, their waste, known as honeydew, is a sugary material that attracts sooty mold, a black fungus that can grow on anything from plants to furniture, although it is non-toxic.
“We basically tell people that if you see one, don’t be afraid to take it out because they do spread. One spotted lantern fly clutch can contain between 30 to 50 eggs,” Moramarco said. “So taking one out is, no pun intended, a step in the right direction."
The species was discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014 and quickly spread across the region, establishing populations in nearby states including Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia.
To slow the spread to New York, the state issued an external quarantine in October 2018, restricting the movement of goods and vehicles from states where the flies are known to have populations.
“The goal of the quarantine we have implemented is to help reduce the opportunities these pests may have in hitching a ride on firewood, plants and other common outdoor items and entering our state in the first place,” Richard Ball, the state’s commissioner of agriculture, said in 2018.
While the quarantine has helped slow their spread, by 2020 the lantern fly had made its way to Staten Island — the first center of infestation in the state — and it has since shown up on Long Island and parts of upstate New York.
Nymphs, or newly hatched lantern flies, have an almost ladybug-like appearance. They are red with black and white spots and can typically be seen from April through July.
They begin to transition from July through September and grow to roughly an inch long and a half-inch wide. They can be identified by their distinctive wings, which are covered in black spots.
In the fall, the adults lay inch-long egg masses on anything from tree trunks, rocks and vehicles to outdoor furniture and firewood.
There seems to be little focus by the Town of Oyster Bay’s administration to address the issue. Brian Nevin, the town’s public information officer, released a statement saying that the town has offered public education on the issue, although he did not specify where the information was available.
“The spotted lantern fly is an invasive species and environmental advocates recommend that residents squash them to help prevent their spread in our community,” read the statement from Joseph Saladino, Oyster Bay supervisor.
According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, one way to detect an infestation is to look for trees that are oozing from a tiny open wound, which can appear wet and may give off a fermented odor or a gray trail on the bark. Infestations can cause wilting, defoliation, and plant death, and can damage a number of agricultural crops including apples, grapes, hops and walnuts.
Lantern flies excrete a sticky liquid waste while feeding, that promotes mold and negatively affects the growth and yield of plants and fruits. The mold can interfere with a plant’s photosynthesis, attract swarms of insects that hinder humans’ outdoor activities, and spread to people’s hair and clothes.
According to the state agriculture department, New York produces more than 30 million bushels of apples each year, while the annual grape harvest is valued at over $50 million.
If you spot the egg masses around your property, dispose of them by scraping them into a plastic zippered bag filled with hand sanitizer or a bucket of hot, soapy water.
It is also recommended that residents inspect their yards for any signs of the pest, particularly at dusk and later in the evening when they tend to gather on tree trunks or the stems of plants.
For more information on the spotted lantern fly, the potential impact of the species on agriculture, insect look-alikes, and other frequently asked questions, visit the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation or the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets online.