Squash ’em! It’s lanternfly season in NYC, and you need to stomp these bugs to protect our plant life

Grab a fly swatter or a trusty shoe — it’s lanternfly season.

You might have heard the warnings since last summer: “If you see a lanternfly, kill it immediately!” But what exactly is a lanternfly and why must we squash them?

In a conversation with amWhatIsNewYork, Louis Sorkin, board-certified entomologist, from the American Museum of Natural History, gave us the low-down on this pesky creature.

So, what is a lanternfly and where do they come from?

Also known as the spotted lanternfly, the bug is a roughly 1 inch long and ½-inch wide at rest bug with noticeable spotted wings, which are often red and white in certain spots with a white stripe going across them. The lanternfly originated in China, and was first detected in Pennsylvania in September 2014. Sorkin says that it’s believed that the species arrived in the Big Apple by female deposits eggs on tree trunks and on vehicles, and with adult flies flying their way over to NYC.

At first glance, the lanternfly may look like an eye-catching species, but don’t let its appearance fool you — this fly is an invasive species that goes after New York City’s plants.

Wait, why are we just hearing about them now?

Honestly, because they weren’t as big of a deal nearly a decade ago. Sorkin says that the number of lanternflies was way lower back then, so it wasn’t as obvious until recent summers.

How are they dangerous?

So a lanternfly isn’t going to sting you, bite you, or poison you. So what’s the big deal? They pose a risk to the unsung heroes of New York City’s environment: the plants.

Lanternflies typically pop up between April and September, with the majority of adult lanternflies appearing around July. The flies use their sucking mouthparts to feed on the sap of more than 70 plant species, including grapevines, maples, black walnut, birch, willow, and other trees. 

As a result, Sorkin says that the feeding can stress out the plants, which can lead to decreased health and potentially death. Plus, the lanternfly’s feeding secretes a sugary substance called honeydew, which not only attracts bees, wasps, and other insects, but also promotes the growth of sooty mold (fungi), which can cover the plant, forest understories, patio furniture, cars, and anything else found below a lanternfly feeding.

Okay, so it’s really fine if we kill them?

Yup! Pull out your finest flip flop and start whacking! 

In all seriousness, Sorkin says it’s encouraged to kill these flies and report the sighting to the State Department of Agriculture, which keeps track and helps exterminate these flies. If you happen to find an egg mass, scrape it off the surface and destroy it.

To report a lanternfly spotting, visit agriculture.ny.gov/spottedlanternfly.