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Spotted lanternfly feeds on more than 70 different species of herbaceous plants, from vines to large trees.

Tree of Heaven (TOH), Ailanthus altissima

Tree of Heaven is the preferred host of spotted lanternfly.   When SLF occurs in a new area the adults most likely to be found on a TOH.  However the feeding behavior varies depending on life stage. Early instar nymphs have no significant preference for TOH a broader host range than adults.

A strong preference for TOH develops sometime during the 4th instar through early- to mid-staged adults. Many more eggs are laid if it can feed on TOH and the egg laying begins sooner.  However late season adults tend to move away from TOH to grape vines,silver maple, willow, etc. Reduced sap flow later in the season on TOH may contribute to this preference. The proximity of TOH to other preferred hosts had no significant effect on how many SLF were found per tree. 

Tree of Heaven is also considered an invasive species which is easily mistaken for staghorn sumac, a native that grows in similar soils and areas.


Illustration of female Tree of Heaven
Illustration of female Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima. Photo: Paul Nelson, Missouri Department of Conservation.
Spotted lanternfly 4th-instar nymphs feeding on Tree of Heaven
Spotted lanternfly 4th-instar nymphs feeding on Tree of Heaven. Photo: NYSIPM Staff.

Other preferred hosts

  • Grapes
  • Black walnut (TOH look-a-like)
  • Hops
  • Maple (late season)
Spotted lanternfly adults on grapevine
Spotted lanternfly adults on grapevine. Photo: NYSIPM Staff.

Currently, grapes appear to be the hardest-hit horticultural or agronomic crop in the quarantine zone of Southeastern PA. Spotted lanternflies are swarm feeders and up to 400 SLF adults per vine have been reported. Feeding by a population this high has been shown to weaken the vine, leading to loss of winter hardiness, reduced or no return bloom or crop, and even vine death. In the Pennsylvania quarantine zone, grapes are the only fruit crop where all life stages of SLF has been found and where egg-laying on vine trunks, cordons, and vineyard posts has occurred. While found in apple orchards, especially those bordering vineyards, SLF adults tend to stay for only a few weeks and then move on to other areas. In the fall SLF can be found in wooded areas and residential areas feeding on black walnut, maples (they will preferentially feed on silver maple, then red maple), willow, river birch, black cherry and tulip poplar.

Other observed hosts

  • Willow
  • Apple
  • Blueberry
  • Mulberry
  • Fig
  • Stone fruit
  • Birch
  • Sycamore
  • Lilac
  • Poplar
  • Staghorn sumac (TOH look-a-like)
  • Virginia creeper
  • Many others

The beak of first, second and third instars is not strong enough to penetrate woody tissue so they primarily feed on annual plants or the current year growth in perennial plants. It has been reported that SLF feed on almost anything as they move from one area to another in search of a preferred food source. As an example, populations have been found feeding in corn and soybean fields for short periods of time, and SLF nymphs have been found feeding on basil, cucumber, rose, statice flowers and even grass though none are a preferred food source. It is hypothesized they are only feeding to get the energy needed to move on to a more preferred host. Fourth instar nymphs and adults have stronger beaks and are able to penetrate the trunks of trees, cordons, and the older growth of other perennial plants. Spotted lanternflies do not have strong muscles associated with their pumping mechanism. Turgor pressure of the plant appears to play a key role in whether SLF finds it a good host as well as the time of year when a plant may be a desired host. Late stage adults move from Tree of Heaven to other food sources in the fall, although the reasons for this are not clearly understood.