Lanterns are growing in the Northeast this summer. In New York City, where this year’s invasion seems particularly extreme, people are trampling them on streets, railings and even restaurant tables. The exterior walls of buildings in the Big Apple are covered in red, spotted bugs.
Some are dead. Some are shaking. Many are still alive.
The good news is that invasive flies do not sting or bite humans. But they do terrible damage to plants and trees. According to the US Department of Agriculture, fireflies feed on sap from foods such as grapes, apples and peaches, and trees such as maple, wood and walnut.
Insects native to Southeast Asia are spreading so quickly in the United States that experts say they have become difficult to control and manage. And experts are sending a clear message: if you see it, step on it.
With warmer temperatures and longer growing seasons due to the climate crisis, lanterns may be here to stay, and they’re expanding into new areas.
“It’s a very distinct and distinctive bug, and it’s establishing itself in more places,” Julie Urban, a research associate professor of entomology at Pennsylvania State University, told CNN. “It’s possible that if your plants are around longer, lanternflies in warmer areas can survive longer and possibly lay an additional egg mass.”
Ground flies prefer warm climates, so as temperatures rise in northern states, the bugs’ range only expands. Also, with colder temperatures, “it usually takes not just the first hard freeze, but a couple of hard freezes to kill them, so the cold certainly won’t push the population back,” Urban added.
With their distinctive brown and red-spotted wings, the invasive bugs are “excellent hitchhikers,” flying short distances, laying egg masses and hopping from leaf to leaf, said Brian Eshenaur, an invasive species expert at Cornell University. New York State Integrated Pest Management.
Eshenaur said he and other researchers believe the insect first arrived in the U.S. in 2014, stored in a container of landscape stone from South Korea, where the species is also invasive. The first known infestation originated in Berks County, Pennsylvania, where the bugs were feeding in a wooded area full of an invasive tree species called the tree of heaven.
Report the given lanterns: in New York | In other states
“She can lay her eggs there and then in the spring, those eggs hatch and if there are suitable plants in the landscape, they can set up shop in their new location,” he said. “It seems they have done that.”
In the years since, lanterns have spread almost everywhere in the Northeast, from Pennsylvania to Vermont, and now New York City. At first, Eshenaur told people to watch out for egg masses in wood, but now he warns that the bugs can lay eggs in almost anything.
“Now we’ve seen egg masses being placed on camp chairs, lawn furniture that’s left outside and even eggs like a hat that someone leaves outside during the laying season,” he said. “We’ve actually had our first confirmation of egg masses in New York’s Hudson Valley, but we’re confident it’s going to happen across New York City.”
And in the Northeast, especially Long Island and the Finger Lakes, experts say the species’ spread is threatening wine.
“The managers of the vineyards wanted to control the insects that can feed on the leaves or bunches of grapes,” said Eshenaur. “One grower lost about 35 hectares, and they stopped planting vines there for a while, and they were wondering if they even had any vines.”
Spotted lanterns feed on plant sap, which they obtain by burrowing into trunks and branches. The punctures weaken the plants, but most of the damage is honeydew that falls on the leaves and fruits. And left unchecked, plants, especially grapes, develop black mold and eventually wilt.
Part of the reason lanterns have been difficult to manage in a place like New York, according to Urban, is because they thrive in so-called disturbed areas. For example, bugs are very fond of the invasive Tree of Heaven, which can grow through cracks in sidewalks and roofs that are common throughout the city. They also camp in plants on roadsides or railway lines.
“How climate change comes into this story is where you find lanternflies and how it’s really able to establish itself,” Urban said. “Climate change is also a story about disturbance, so it’s a general disturbance that adds additional noise and makes these insects problematic.”
Lanterns have been spotted as far south as North Carolina, and many experts fear it could spread to the West, where much of the country’s food is grown. A 2019 study showed that the lamprey’s potential habitat could extend into the Midwest and Southeast, and alarmingly, the bug has a strong chance of setting up shop on the West Coast.
Lisa Neven, a researcher at the US Department of Agriculture and a co-author of the study, told CNN that if the light fly spreads to the coast, it could have a major impact on the region’s agricultural industry and food production.
“People are very, very aware of this pest and they’re on the lookout, especially here in the Pacific Northwest,” Neven said. “We are very worried about the crops we grow.”
As researchers look for more long-term solutions to the rapid rate at which the climate crisis is changing temperatures, Urban and Eshenaur urge people to report and suppress the flies when they can, so they don’t spread to the rest of the ecosystem. country.
“If you don’t stop it, you’re going to spread it,” Urban said. “In the longer term, research-based solutions are coming. We just need help to buy time.’