March 8, 2023

PRISMS Student Researcher Helps Detect Local Spotted Lanternfly Egg Masses

ON THE HUNT: Joseph Miller, a senior at the Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science, checks for spotted lanternfly eggs under a branch at a residential property in Princeton. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Miller)

By Wendy Greenberg

On a clear day this past weekend, a local high school student ventured into a local backyard looking for the larvae of spotted lanternflies. With spotted lanternflies proliferating in the area, the student, Joseph Miller, a senior at the Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science (PRISMS), gets a lot of requests, especially since he has offered this environmentally helpful service through the Municipality of Princeton Newsletter.

As a high school junior last year doing a two-year research project identifying clusters of spotted lanternflies, Miller realized he was fairly adept at finding the eggs. Figuring he could prevent more infestations by this invasive species by eradicating the eggs, he and another student last year turned this expertise into a community service.

The research began, said Miller, with a two-year project in which he uses thermal imagery to detect clusters of spotted lanternflies. While most people look for infestations with binoculars, Miller employs a heat sensor in a drone to help locate large clusters, possibly through flyovers of farms or forests. That research is still ongoing.

The search for larvae is an extension of that research. Miller figured he “might as well look at the eggs,” which tend to blend in the environment so “most people don’t know they have them.”

Usually, he explained, the eggs are on the surface of a tree, but underneath the branch, possibly as natural protection from the environment. The eggs prefer smoother bark, such as Japanese maples, and tend also to congregate on river birch. “I check those first,” he said.

They are usually in clumps of 40 to 60 and are easily dislodged with a putty knife. Miller usually sprays rubbing alcohol on the eggs because moisture makes them easier to dislodge, and he puts them in a bag and seals it.

Last year his expertise was so popular that he and another student, who has since graduated, estimated they prevented some 30,000 spotted lanternfly eggs from hatching.

Miller’s teacher Adam Kemp, who is assistant principal, head of the STEAM department, and research coordinator of PRISMS, noted that “Joe’s extraordinary work is the product of our multi-year research program where each of our 11th and 12th grade students have the opportunity to dive deep into a STEM-focused topic. We love to see our students find ways in which their investigations can support the local Princeton community, and Joe’s effort to tackle the lanternfly infestation has been second to none.”

Kemp said the school’s research program, one of its highlights, begins during the ninth grade with an interdisciplinary research program called BASE (Bridging the Arts, Science, and Engineering). All ninth graders work in small teams to develop an agricultural study and engage in a field research project during the spring semester.

“The goal is to give them a first-hand research experience and help them see the connections that exist across disciplines,” said Kemp. This sets the stage for specializing in a STEM discipline by taking Advanced Placement courses. By the end of 10th grade, students choose from one of nine science research areas and embark on a two-year project.

PRISMS is a four-year international boarding and day school for students in grades nine through 12. It was founded in 2013 emphasizing STEM education and the research and development process. The campus is on Lambert Drive.

A school flyer notes that “the spotted lanternfly is an invasive species native to East Asia that has been damaging agricultural crops and native plants in our state. By the end of spring, the spotted lanternfly begins to hatch out of its egg and grow into an adult. The spotted lanternfly feeds on tree sap, excreting honeydew which in turn grows mold and damages the plant.”

Lanternflies can especially wreak havoc on fruit trees and vines. In fact, Miller said, he visited residents who had their grapevines destroyed by the lanternflies but it was too late. The flyer also notes that the students would not use anything damaging to the environment.

On its website, the New Jersey’s Department of Agriculture (NJDA) notes that the spotted lanternfly, Lycorma delicatula, “was first discovered in the U.S. in Pennsylvania in Berks County in 2014 and has spread to other counties in Pa., as well as the states of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, New York, Connecticut, and Ohio.”

This insect, it continues, “has the potential to greatly impact agricultural crops and hardwood trees,” by feeding off the sap. The NJDA asks residents to “stomp out” the fly itself.

The website has information on the spotted lanternfly, and a video from Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia on how to remove eggs.

Miller, who is waiting to hear from colleges, is a busy senior who does his egg-hunting on Sundays and some days after school. He is trying to get more student help. Because he has limited time, he prefers, he said, to be called by property owners with heavier infestations.

To contact Miller for the service, email or In a busy season, he may teach homeowners how to spot the eggs and remove the eggs themselves.