Earth Matters Beware the spotted lanterfly heading our way

June 16, 2018 GMT

It’s a lose-lose parlay — the combination of an invasive plant, the tree of heaven, sheltering an invasive bug, the spotted lanternfly.

It hasn’t happened yet in Connecticut. But that’s where the wise money is going.

“We’ll probably get it before long,” said Donna Ellis, senior education educator with the University of Connecticut, speaking about the expected arrival of the lanternfly, a pretty little Asian interloper that can suck the life out of a plant.

And woe to the state’s orchards and vineyards, its hardwoods and hop yards if it arrives.

Ellis said she’s seen video of the spotted lanternfly exuding a sticky honeydew as its feeds.

“It looked like it was raining,” she said.

The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven has been setting up insect traps in the state to see if the spotted lanternfly has made its way here. So far, so good — no lanternflies.


“They set up traps here last year, but didn’t find anything,” said Mark Langford, manager of the DiGrazia Vineyards in Brookfield. “I guess it’s another invasive pest to scratch off our list.”

Sally Futh, one of the owners of the Starberry Farm peach orchard in Washington, said she and her husband Bob have heard of the spotted lanternfly but haven’t seen it.

“At the moment, we’re more worried about the pests we already have,” she said.

Howard Bronson, of Maple Bank Farm in Roxbury, said he hadn’t even heard of the bug.

“That doesn’t sound good at all,” he said of its eventual arrival.

Entomologists found the spotted lanternfly in Berks County in southeastern Pennsylvania in 2014. It’s now spread to 12 other counties in that state, as well as New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.

Katherine Dugas, an agricultural research assistant with the experiment station, said the spotted lanternfly is native to China, India and Vietnam. Because it can lay its egg masses on hard flat surfaces, it probably arrived in the U.S. via stonework from Korea, where it’s also considered an invasive species.

It’s in a family commonly known as plant hoppers, she said.

Visually, the spotted lanternfly is a striking specimen, with prominent crimson patches on spotted gray-and-white wings. It’s about an inch long, with a two-inch wingspan.

“It looks like a butterfly,” Dugas said. “The first reaction people have when seeing it is ‘Oh, it’s pretty.’”

But pretty is as pretty does. In that regard, the lanternfly is a nasty piece of work.

It feeds by jabbing its sharp beak into the branch of a tree or vine, then drinking the sap.

“It’s like s a straw,” Dugas said.

That weakens the plant by essentially drinking its lifeblood. But spotted lanternfly also produce a sticky honeydew as they feed; mold can grow on that gummy mess, further damaging the plant.


While it can fly into an orchard or vineyard to feed, its preferred host plant for egg-laying is the tree of heaven. So while the insect isn’t here, the tree definitely is.

The tree of heaven is a fast-growing non-native tree that looks like a sumac. Once established, it can quickly crowd out any native species.

Ellis of UConn said botanists imported the tree — another non-native invasive species from Asia — to the U.S. in 1784, thinking it a lovely exotic shade tree.

Two centuries of experience have taught people that the tree of heaven just takes over any place where there’s some disturbed soil. It’s often found along roadways, Ellis said. But it can also grow through the cracks of sidewalks.

It’s a prolific breeder.

“One tree can produce 350,000 seeds,” Ellis said.

But to reach those trees in Connecticut, the spotted lanternfly will probably need a ride. To halt that spread, Pennsylvania has instituted a quarantine on the movement of wood, stone and plants from affected areas in the state.

In Connecticut, the agricultural experiment station has issued an alert which can be found at

But Dugas said it’s likely that someone will eventually drive into the state, unknowingly carrying an egg mass in the back of their truck.

Finding insects like the spotted lanternfly is the price we pay for living in a global community, Dugas said. We get goods from all over the world. But we also get Asian long-horned beetles and emerald ash borers. And, now, spotted lanternflies.

“We’re fighting invasive species from Asia,” she said. “In Asia, they’re dealing with invasive species from Europe and North America.”

Contact Robert Miller at