By Shealyn Paulis
Michigan experts are encouraging residents to squash the invasive spotted lanternfly as the destructive insect rapidly spreads throughout the Great Lakes region.
The state’s invasive species program has launched a “See it. Squish it. Report it.” campaign advocating for residents to not only kill the pest, but to report the deed. They are doing it with public-service videos, social media and billboards along freeways to battle a pest that has already taken over the East Coast.
“Ultimately, the insect will spread. But the goal is containment,” said Michael Philip, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development director of the agency’s Pesticide and Plant Pest Management Division.
The insect targets more than 70 different plants, including fruit and hardwood trees, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is particularly fond of fruit orchards, hardwoods and grapevines. The insect does not eat fruit, but the sap within the wood and stems of trees and plants.
Spotted lanternflies made their way into the U.S. first in Pennsylvania from Asia in 2014. They have since spread through the Great Lakes region and are now in New York (2020), Ohio (2020), Indiana (2021), Michigan (2022). And Illinois just confirmed its first live sighting on September 26.The spread has been quick and difficult to control, as the pests’ presence has been confirmed by state agencies in 15 states since 2014.
The “See it. Squish it. Report it.” campaign was launched one year after the only detection of the pest in Oakland County, Michigan in August 2022. The population was confirmed to be isolated to a singular tree/area within the county and has since been disposed of by Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
The campaign reports that spotted lanternfly egg sacs look like gray, palm-sized clumps of chewed bubblegum and can be found on any hard outdoor surface. The adult is a brown bug with bright red, polka-dotted wings beneath their brown outer shells.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, spotted lanternflies can fly – but it is not their strong suit. These bugs prefer to jump for short distances and hitchhike otherwise. They cross state lines by laying their eggs on train cars and other vehicles with hard outdoor surfaces.
Damage to plants arises from the way the adult spotted lanternflies feed – they target the sap of the host plant, and excrete a byproduct called honeydew, according to the Michigan Invasive Species Program. This honeydew attracts other insects such as yellow jackets, flies and ants. It is also a colonizer for a fungus called sooty mold.
Sooty mold is a dark mold infection that grows on honeydew. This fungus can foul surfaces and kill plants in extreme cases, according to state agriculture officials.
“It’ll turn your car black, or your house,” Philip said. “It’ll get so bad in some cases, that the leaves get so covered in sooty mold that they can’t photosynthesize properly anymore, and they can get sick or even die.”
While they can be found on any plant, lanternflies strongly prefer the tree of heaven, an invasive species also originating from Asia. This makes tracking and control of the insect slightly easier, as the tree itself can be treated or removed.
“First, we’re going to look for their preferred host, the tree of heaven, because it is so very attractive to the spotted lanternfly,” Philip said. “If there’s a lanternfly infestation, and there’s a tree of heaven there, it will almost definitely be on that tree.”
Wildlife and pest agencies in the Great Lakes region have been ramping up control efforts. Wisconsin and Minnesota are the only states in the Great Lakes region without a confirmed presence.
Wisconsin has used public outreach and education to attempt to slow the invasive species. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection declined an interview but said by email that it has established an online reporting form for invasive pests, similar to that of Michigan DNR’s “Eyes In The Field” reporting system for invasive species.
“How many other invasive insects do you know of that have had a skit about them on Saturday Night Live?” wrote Shahla Werner, plant protection section manager at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection
The Wisconsin agency has only received reports of dead adult lanternflies, according to agency officials.
Wisconsin is home to more than 800 acres of vineyards and more than 100 local wineries that could be threatened by the pest.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, lanternflies feeding on grapevines can make them more susceptible to winter injury, making them fail to set fruit, lower yields or kill the plants. The arrival of lanternflies could increase control efforts and costs for farmers, as they may need to spray 10-14 times per season for this pest when swarms arrive to feed in fall.
This means they could hinder fall outdoor recreation. That includes fall winery and orchard tourism, camping and outdoor events, such as fall weddings, Werner said.
In Michigan, local resources for fighting the bug are here.
Experts say that the way to report a spotted lanternfly is by calling the local Department of Agriculture or through an online reporting tool. Such tools are linked to each of these states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota and New York. Reporting for Illinois is done by sending the details (such as the location, number, photos) to the email address email@example.com.
In simpler terms: See it, squish it, report it.