ITHACA, N.Y. –– Since the spotted lanternfly (SLF) was first found in Ithaca last fall, the city has been on the lookout for more, with concerns remaining that the invasive pest could impact the agriculture-heavy local economy and wreak havoc on backyards alike.  

Then the flies appeared again on Stewart Avenue in April. According to Brian Eshenaur, who coordinates New York State’s outreach effort for the spotted lanternfly, the April egg mass in Ithaca was the only one found thus far, but there were some nymphs seen in the area.

“The thing about this insect is it not only lays its egg masses on trees, but also on inanimate objects such as rocks and posts, cars, under lawn furniture and those kinds of things,” Eshenaur said. “Who knows where those egg masses were that did hatch […] but just a small number of nymphs were found.”

Grace said the eggs look like gray clay and are usually laid throughout the fall and winter. The spring and summer months are when the nymphs are actively feeding. They leave behind a sticky honeydew substance that can attract other pests and cause mold to form which can kill the plants or trees that are fed on. 

SLFs are dangerous to local environmental health because their feeding habits damage trees, plants and most importantly for the Ithaca area, grape vines. While eggs can be seen on the base of trees, it is likely that there are more eggs in the tree canopy, which inspectors cannot see from the ground—and why trees found to have eggs are cut down. 

“There are inspectors throughout this area looking for more egg masses, more nymphs and adults throughout the summer,” Grace said. “They’re gathering information now and using that to decide what the next steps might be to really eradicate the [SLF] in this area.”

Some of that information includes monitoring trees that the flies frequent such as the Tree of Heaven, an invasive tree species, which is prominent in the Finger Lakes region. Eshenuar mentioned that when SLF are new to an area this is one of the first trees the insects frequent because it is a good nutrient source for them. 

The adults also tend to feed in swarms which can weaken their food source because they are taking too many nutrients.This is a concern for local wineries because weakened crops mean less or no grapes from affected vines. Not to mention, the costs of pesticides to keep the SLF away could drive up wine costs. 

In terms of pesticides, researchers at Cornell University found two types of fungi that have been successful in reducing SLF populations in Pennsylvania. The university is working to turn this fungi into a natural insecticide to keep SLF at bay.

“For this area, what we’re very concerned with is the damage that they cause to orchards and vineyards,” Grace said. “We don’t want them to damage those industries that we have in the Finger Lakes.”

Timothy Martinson, senior extension associate at Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science, said that SLF has not truly arrived in the area and he does not expect it to be serious because of control measures already taken.

“The main point we’ve emphasized with our growers is detection and training people to know what [SLF] looks like and what to look for,” said Martinson. 

SLF are commonly found in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the Virginias, as well as parts of New York such as Staten Island. Tompkins County is a focus for New York because it is further away from other clusters of the insects. Because of the flies’ spread and threat to the environment, a number of east coast universities such as Cornell, Pennsylvania State University and Rutgers University, are working together to find a solution to SLF in the northeastern United States. 

Kit Kalfs, owner and general manager of Bet the Farm Winery, said that the SLF are not a huge concern right now because they are mainly focused in Pennsylvania, but it is good to know what is going on.

“Right now they are really heavy around the Lancaster area,” Kalfs said. “They don’t necessarily eat the leaves like Japanese Beetles but they suck on the sap thus weakening the vine making it harder to produce fruit and just survive, so it is a major concern that we keep it at bay…it could be absolutely devastating for all of us.”

Mikayla Rovenolt

Mikayla Rovenolt interns with the Ithaca Voice and is also a contributing writer for Queers for a Cause, an online based Lgbtq news and advocacy blog. Tips or stories? Contact mikaylarovenolt@gmail.com.