I stepped outside this morning and a large bug flew into my face. I’m grateful it was me and not my wife because if it was her, the backdoor would have slammed shut, and none of us would have been allowed to reopen it until the first frost. Still, it wasn’t the best start to my day.
When I got my bearings, I saw not one but three large bugs huddled together on the porch floor around me. I’m no entomologist, but I knew what I was looking at: spotted lanternflies.
The relentless, high-pitch screaming of the Brood X Cicadas has only just died down and now we’re under siege again. The invasive lanternfly infestation is now so problematic among much of the River Towns that the New Jersey Department of Agriculture has put Hunterdon County under quarantine. (Neighboring Mercer County and Bucks County, in Pennsylvania, also are under quarantine.)
It’s even couched the measure in a slogan, “Join the Battle, Beat the Bug” – as if we have nothing better to do than rally around a common goal of killing every lanternfly in sight.
This particular quarantine does not mean that we need to stay inside our homes. Not yet, at least. No, in this case, the lanternflies are the ones being quarantined.
At the moment, the infestation is spread among several eastern states, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania, according to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. So, the aim of putting an area in quarantine is to raise awareness among those living there in an effort to prevent it from broadening.
If you’re planning to drive outside of the River Towns, the Department of Agriculture suggests first taking a look around your car (and trailer). They also want you to scope out your yard and report any lanternfly sightings, which you can do here. That may seem like overkill, but those reports are funneled into a central database that’s used by the United States Department of Agriculture to “help determine infested areas and possible treatment for high-risk properties.”
And, of course, they want you to stomp on the jerks every time you see one.
Don’t worry; the lanternflies don’t sting or bite. They’re purely a nuisance to people and animals. But they can lay waste to a range of trees and plants, including (gasp) grapevines at vineyards.
The lanternfly, which is native to China, Vietnam, and India, was first spotted stateside in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 2014. Four years later, it surfaced in Hunterdon County. Last year, their numbers across the region “skyrocketed,” George Hamilton, a Rutgers professor of entomology, told MyCentralJersey.
While the bugs have done their greatest damage locally at vineyards, they also like to feed on maple, black walnut, birch, and willow trees, as well as trees of heaven, Hamilton says. Their feeding puts plants and trees under a lot of stress, which could ultimately kill them.
And it’s not just their constant munching that’s the problem. They also excrete a honeydew that can coat a deck. It also promotes the growth of a black sooty mold, which is harmless to us – though it does attract bees and wasps – but devastating to plants and trees.
The takeaway: Wherever you see a spotted lanternfly, go Suicide Squad on its butt. Then report it and consider yourself a hero.