August 4, 2021

The Spotted Lanternfly Is Back and Here to Stay

RE-EMERGING: The spotted lanternfly is making itself known in Princeton once again.

By Anne Levin

They don’t sting. They don’t bite. But the spotted lanternfly, which has begun spreading its red-flecked wings on local trees again, can be a big nuisance.

“They’re more of a pain,” said Princeton Arborist Taylor Sapudar, who saw his first adults of the year a few weeks ago. “They are a major concern for vineyards. But in the ornamental landscape, what we need to be concerned about is that they excrete a black, sticky substance that attracts bees and wasps. It’s messy. If you have a car parked under a tree where they are, that can be a problem.”

According to information on the municipal website (, the spotted lanterfly is a plant hopper that belongs to the family “Fulgoridae in the order Hempitera.” It feeds on plant sap, and then produces what is known as honeydew, “which facilitates the growth of sooty mold and can make decks, cars, patios, and walkways a sticky mess if they are located beneath a tree with a high population of lantern flies,” reads the website.

Native to China, the spotted lanternfly was accidentally introduced into Pennsylvania in September of 2014. It was first detected in New Jersey four years later and has since spread to other states including Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and New York. Its life cycle is one year. Egg masses are laid in the fall and hatch the following spring. They can be laid on any flat surface such as tree trunks, cars, picnic tables, and houses.

While the insects can cause damage to trees, they are not as destructive as the emerald ash borer. “They can cause damage by significantly feeding on the trees. However, they do not bore into the trees like the ash borer, so death in healthy hardwood trees is unlikely to occur,” said Sapudar.

While Sapudar has seen a few of the bothersome insects on maples and elms, high volumes of them are usually found on the invasive tree of heaven, or Ailanthus altissima. When crushed, the leaves smell like rotten peanut butter.

“These are not trees you’d see for sale in a nursery,” said Sapudar. “You see them in parking lots, or in the edge of woods, or areas that are not mowed regularly. For some reason, the spotted lanterfly is particularly attracted to them.”

Sapudar said he was hoping that with the previous cold winter, egg masses would die off. “But they didn’t,” he said. “So I’m anticipating a lot of calls about them this year.”

Anyone inundated with the insects should contact a local tree care company. “There are plans they can give you to get rid of them,” said Sapudar. “That’s what I’d recommend.”