21 February 2023, Asia: The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is an insect pest of several economically important crop plants. It is also a menace to many fruits including grapes, apricots, apples and cherries.
What are the characteristics of spotted lanternfly?
With its wings spread out, the pest looks like a colourful butterfly or moth, but it is actually a species of planthopper. Planthoppers live and feed on plants and they are strong jumpers.
During their life cycle, they go through four wingless stages of growth before becoming adults. When they become adults, the species reaches about 2.5 centimetres long and has light grey-brown forewings covered in dark spots. When startled or preparing to take flight, the lanternfly reveals its striking hindwings which are scarlet with black and white patches.
How invasive is it?
The spotted lanternfly is native to China, India and Vietnam. It was accidentally introduced into South Korea and Japan, with outbreaks reported since the mid-2000s. It has now spread to the US. First spotted in Pennsylvania in 2014, the species is now abundant throughout the eastern states.
Research in the US has shown that the species has the potential to spread to other areas of the world. A study found that climatic conditions are suitable for spotted lanternfly colonisation across large regions of Europe, Asia, Oceania, South America and North America.
Spotted lanternflies are sap-sucking insects that feed on more than 70 plants. Its primary host plant is the tree of heaven, which is itself considered to be a noxious invasive species in some areas of the US.
What is the impact on native biodiversity?
The insects do not have predators in their new ranges, so their population can grow rapidly. As they are relatively inconspicuous when moving into new areas, their spread can go unnoticed.
Spotted lanternflies are becoming problematic in parts of the US. In Pennsylvania, researchers estimate the species could drain the state’s economy by up to $324 million (£240 million) each year and cause the loss of 2,800 jobs, if not contained.
The insects are also a threat to economically important crops such as oaks and black walnut, along with many fruits. Grape vineyards in South Korea and the US say they are being negatively impacted by the lanternfly. One vineyard in Pennsylvania reportedly faced a yield loss of up to 90%.
How can we control it?
US researchers recommend that preventative measures be implemented in countries with high climatic suitability for the species. They say that early detection – through surveying and trapping – will be key to containing the lanternfly’s potential spread.
Biosecurity measures could also help minimise the spread of this species. This includes control of the species’ host plant, the tree of heaven.
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