For homeowners and farmers alike, spotted lanternflies are decidedly a menace.
They congregate with impunity anywhere they can, including homes, cars, yards, and fields, decreasing “the quality of life for people living in heavily infested areas,” state officials have said. They lay masses of 30 to 50 eggs on trees and cluster on crops, threatening to destroy grapes, apples, peaches, and timber. Their strong, long legs allow them to jump quickly and latch onto various objects, including the undercarriages of vehicles bound for other states.
The pesky bug’s ability to travel and multiply rapidly has meant that other states, including New Jersey and Delaware, have been drawn into the growing crisis.
In Pennsylvania, the state Department of Agriculture declared a quarantine on the spotted lanternfly in several counties last May in an effort to prevent the invasion from spreading. And officials have been blunt in their advice on how to deal with the damaging insects: Kill them.
Enter Chris Tipping, a biology professor at Delaware Valley University, who’s dedicated his summer to finding fresh ways to help eradicate the destructive pests. He’s been spending time at Vivat Alfa, a Bucks County winery, testing a new spotted lanternfly trap. He hopes it will be effective enough to catch the invasive insects, while sparing birds, butterflies, dragonflies, and squirrels.
Since May, Tipping and Austin Wilson, a recent Del Val graduate who is working for him as an intern, have wrapped bands of translucent plastic wrap in red, yellow, and blue around trees at the winery, then smeared a thick glue over the wrap. From there they wait, curious to see where the spotted lanternflies will go.
Plenty of questions about the elusive bugs remain. But one thing is without doubt.
“They are spreading," Tipping said of spotted lanternflies, which migrated from Asia and first appeared in Berks County in 2014. They’ve since spread to 13 other counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania, including Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia.
“Every year it’s more and more,” he said. "The best we can do is monitor and try to manage, try to quarantine.”
Tipping expects the trap, created by Bayonne, N.J.-based pest control manufacturer Catchmaster, will sell well once on the market.
“People just don’t like big bugs," he said of the 1-inch-long pests. "When they’re on homeowner properties and woodlots and backyards, people like to see them on a sticky trap, dead. So there’s a big market for that.”
For Tipping, who’s been interested in bugs since he was a kid, this is an opportunity to quietly observe another insect invasion. He’s had plenty of experience, having once worked with an influx of gypsy moth caterpillars, another time with stinkbugs.
When it comes to the spotted lanternflies, Tipping said, Catchmaster is testing a chemical designed to make the sticky traps appeal to them. What chemical, he will not say, calling it “proprietary information."
“We know so little about this invader, we want to find out what some of its habits are and what it’s attracted to,” said Ed Dolshun, technical director and vice president of business development at Catchmaster.
A large element in understanding the lanternfly, Tipping said, lies simply in being patient.
“I watch them," he said. “I do a lot of observations. I see where they are on a tree, where they are on the branches, where they lay their eggs. I try to look at their movement patterns through the forest. Just keen observation is the key.”
Tipping spends hours and days watching creatures others consider a scourge.