It was mid-August when we first heard the Spotted Lanternfly may be infesting our city. We were innocent then, thinking we'd just get a few swarms here and there. And everyone from the NYS Department of Agriculture to the NYC Parks Department to Governors Island emboldened us to take control of the situation—the instructions were clear, if brutal: New Yorkers were to kill these beautiful creatures. Stomp on them, they said. But it's a month later, and while New Yorkers have—at times begrudgingly—done their duty to fend off the infestation, there are simply too many now.
Louis Sorkin, Entomologist at the American Museum of Natural History, told Gothamist this week, "Stomping on the lanternflies of course kills them, but it has a very small impact on their populations." In other words, we brought a knife to a gun fight.
But there are solutions in play beyond the stomping method, particularly in places like vineyards, where the lanternfly is a threat to the wine industry. In these cases, a decoy can help. "The preferred [lanterfly] host is the tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima)," Sorkin said, "and one study used potted tree-of-heaven in vineyards to lure the insects away from the grapevines. These potted trees also had a systemic insecticide, so the lanternfly died from feeding on its favorite food item."
However, Jola Szubielski from New York State's Department of Agriculture (NYS AGM) told Gothamist that "the Department does not recommend planting tree-of-heaven, which is in itself an invasive, as a control measure." They are, however, finding success using other “trap trees” with an insecticide to reduce the population.
Sorkin said that ultimately knowledge is key, and "research into its biology and behavior, invertebrate and vertebrate predators, and biopesticides, is ongoing. Knowing about its biology aids in controlling it as is the case with many pest species."
How is the city controlling what seems like a large population of Spotted Lanterflies? Charisse Hill of NYC Parks told us the state is in charge of eradication—"We wouldn’t be able to provide any details on this since it’s not under our purview." Hill added, "The Spotted Lanternfly is mostly a threat to agricultural crops not typically found in New York City proper; they are not a killer of trees, despite their ability to weaken them if severely infested."
Still, NYC Parks has asked New Yorkers who see this invasive planthopper to "please squish and dispose of this pest—and document your finding by emailing pictures to Forest.Health@parks.nyc.gov." And while NYS AGM is also asking for New Yorkers to continue to help stomp out the pests, they have updated their request saying that New York City residents should stop reporting sightings "because [we are] aware of the population spread."
Szubielski told us on Wednesday that "further actions in New York City are currently being planned, but initial work will include documenting locations of SLF host material. The Department is also asking residents to assist with control measures as found on Cornell’s IPM page. In the meantime, the Department is also working on implementing a quarantine to continue its efforts to further slow the spread of this invasive pest."
State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said in a statement, “The Department has been working diligently to mitigate the impacts of this destructive pest... Despite intensive survey and the implementation of targeted management plans, AGM has continued to find SLF around the New York City area. We are once again asking for residents’ help, this time with spotted lanternfly control measures, particularly in this area."
The department also noted that "later in the fall the public can help further by scraping off and destroying egg masses."
This story was updated to include more comments from the NYS AGM.