The spotted lanternfly, an invasive species that feeds on plants and trees, has made its way to Long Island’s North Shore. While the species has been the focus of much media attention in recent months, residents of the area, and even some elected officials, seem largely untroubled by their spread.
“I personally am not too concerned, but I think that’s primarily because I haven’t really seen too many around here,” Jason Zimmermann, an Oyster Bay resident, said. “I heard about them maybe a year ago, and I think mostly since then it’s kind of faded away, so it’s not as much an immediate issue for me.”
The species was discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014, and quickly spread across the region, establishing itself in nearby states including Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia.
To try to slow the spread to New York, the state issued an external quarantine in October 2018, restricting the movement of goods and vehicles from states where the flies were known to have populations.
“The goal of the quarantine we have implemented is to help reduce the opportunities these pests may have in hitching a ride on firewood, plants and other common outdoor items and entering our state in the first place,” Richard Ball, the state’s agriculture commissioner, said in 2018.
While the quarantine has helped slow the lanternfly’s spread, by 2020 it had made its way to Staten Island — the first center of infestation in the state — and has since shown up on Long Island and parts of upstate New York.
Nymphs, or newly hatched lanternflies, have an almost ladybug-like appearance. They are red with black and white spots, and can typically be seen from April through July.
They begin to transition from July through September, and grow to roughly an inch long and a half-inch wide. They can be identified by their distinctive wings, which are covered with black spots.
In the fall, the adults lay inch-long egg masses on anything from tree trunks and rocks to vehicles, outdoor furniture and firewood. They are particularly attracted to the tree-of-heaven, a species native to China — like the flies themselves — which can be found around the Town of Oyster Bay, including in Sea Cliff, Glen Head and the hamlet itself.
Despite their spread, there seems to be little focus by the town administration to address the issue. Brian Nevin, Oyster Bay’s public information officer, released a statement saying that the town has offered public education on the issue, but did not specify where the information was available.
“The spotted lanternfly is an invasive species,” a statement from Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino read, “and state and environmental advocates recommend that residents squash them to help prevent their spread in our community.”
According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, one way to detect an infestation is to look for trees with small oozing wounds, which can appear wet and may give off a fermented odor or a gray trail on the bark. Infestations can cause wilting, defoliation and plant death, and can damage a number of agricultural crops including apples, grapes, hops and walnuts.
Lanternflies excrete a sticky liquid waste while feeding, called honeydew, that promotes mold and negatively impacts the growth and yield of plants and fruits. The mold can interfere with a plant’s photosynthesis, attract swarms of insects, and spread to people’s hair and clothes.
According to the state agriculture and markets department, New York produces more than 30 million bushels of apples each year, while the annual grape harvest is valued at over $50 million.
If you spot the egg masses around your property, dispose of them by scraping them into a plastic zippered bag filled with hand sanitizer or a bucket of hot, soapy water.
It is also recommended that residents inspect their yards for any signs of the pest, particularly at dusk and later in the evening, when they tend to gather on tree trunks or the stems of plants.
For more information on the spotted lanternfly, the potential impact of the species on agriculture, insect look-alikes, and other frequently asked questions, visit the state Department of Environmental Conservation or the Department of Agriculture and Markets online.
Additional reporting by Will Sheeline.