The spotted lanternfly is a planthopper with piercing-sucking mouthparts enabling them to be phloem feeders.
Scientific Name: Lycorma delicatula (White)
The name lanternfly is misleading; spotted lanternflies have little in common with any type of fly. Another misconception arises when viewing adults with wings spread, making them look like moths. Spotted lanternflies are planthoppers in the order Hemiptera, or true bugs, and are closely related to cicadas, brown marmorated stink bugs, aphids and leafhoppers. All insects in this order have piercing-sucking mouthparts which allow them to drill into the phloem of a plant to feed directly on the sugary sap.
In the current infestations, spotted lanternfly has shown to have one generation per year consisting of four nymphal stages, an adult stage, and overwintering as egg masses. Being true bugs, spotted lanternflies molt to progress between stages. Egg hatch is over an extended time period with the first instar nymphs appearing in May and June. Mating takes place starting in late August with egg-laying taking place in September through November or until the first killing freeze.
The first instar nymph is approximately ¼” long and black with white spots, and occasionally mistaken for a tick. Second and third instar nymphs are also black with white spots, but the fourth instar nymph takes on a red coloration with white spots and can be up to ¾”. Fourth instar nymphs molt and become adults approximately 1 inch in length.
Many photos of adult SLF show wings open, including the red underwings, but in nature this only occurs when the SLF is startled or is ready to take flight. It is much more common to see adults at rest with black-spotted, pinkish-tan wings folded over its back. Both male and female SLF have yellow abdomens with black stripes. Female SLF have a set of red valvifers at the distal end of the abdomen. When gravid (mated), the female abdomen swells to the point where they find it difficult to fly.
In the photo above, you can see the following characteristics:
- Wings have a pinkish tint, are tent-shaped, and are approximately 1 inch long and 1/2-inch-wide at rest.
- About 2/3 of the length of the forewings are black spotted; the posterior end of forewings has a brick pattern.
- The unusual short antennae are bulbous orange with needle-like tips.
Females lay one or two egg masses, each containing 30 – 60 eggs laid in rows. She covers them with a creamy-white, putty-like substance that becomes pinkish-gray as it dries. After a few weeks the covering turns a darker tan and starts to crack, resembling a splotch of mud. Depending on the substrate, egg masses can be extremely camouflaged. SLF lay eggs on any hard, smooth surface, including rusty metal when the population density exceeds preferred egg laying sites. This may include cushions on outdoor furniture and the rough bark of conifers.
All nymphal stages and adult spotted lanternflies can use their powerful hind legs to jump impressive distances; adults are able to fly short distances. On their own, they are able to move 3 to 4 miles through walking, jumping and flying. Unfortunately, they are common hitchhikers at all life stages, but adults and egg masses are the most common. Adults will fly into open windows of vehicles, into picking bins, and into the back of trucks while they are being loaded; eggs can be found on almost any outdoor surface. Transportation by human activity is the most common form of movement and the main reason SLF populations have not been contained. Because of this, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets implemented an external quarantine in the fall of 2018 to restrict the movement of certain items into NYS from areas with SLF infestations. While any item can be part of the quarantine, the restriction focuses on outdoor items such as firewood, motor homes and recreational vehicles, building materials and kiddie pools. To reduce the risk of these hitchhiking pests, the NYS IPM Program has created a SLF Checklist to use when visiting an area with known populations of SLF.
In the video above, spotted lanternflies fly through a vineyard. Video: Heather Leach, Penn State Extension.