Sunday, October 2, 2022
Home GAMING The Year of the Spotted Lanternfly

The Year of the Spotted Lanternfly

I was sitting on a New Jersey Transit train at the Bay Street station in Montclair, New Jersey, one afternoon when I saw a spotted lanternfly. The tracks to the east and west of the station are divided by a chain-link fence about five feet high, probably to prevent people from crossing them. In the double-decker cars, the lower level of seating puts you at train platform height, and when you look out the window at the stations, you see the passengers’ shoes. I was on the left side of the train, where the view was of the top bar of the chain-link fence, up close. As I watched, a spotted lanternfly walked along the top of the fence.

Each section of the fence is supported by a vertical tube-like post with a hemispherical metal cap. The spotted lanternfly reached the post and slowly climbed an inch or two to the top, each pair of legs at a time; then he walked in a careful semicircle as he passed through the cap. He scrambled down the other side of the lid, slammed his six feet onto the top bar of the next section of fence, and kept going. Spotted lanternflies have a pair of hind wings, half of which are bright red, the color of Certainly Red lipstick. When the insect is at rest, the dull brown forewings cover the hindwings and do not you can see a lot of red. When this insect maneuvered over the cap, for a moment the wings lit up and the red was vividly displayed.

Had he traveled here on the train? She could have. Suddenly spotted lanternflies are all over the place. State agricultural experiment stations have posted warnings about traveling by cars and trucks (although the warnings don’t appear to include trains). The bugs even lay eggs in the wheel wells of your car. You might think of an egg patch as just some dried mud that has hardened in there. Adult insects cling tenaciously to vehicle surfaces. I think maybe because they have sticky feet.

At a booth at the farmers’ market in Nutley, New Jersey, volunteers from Rutgers University’s Master Gardeners program tell people they saw lanternflies (formally known as delicate lycorma) are grasshoppers and come from Asia. Why the New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania area suddenly exploded in population this year is a mystery; they were first found in the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania in 2014. Since then, they have caused tens of millions of dollars of damage to the state’s agriculture and forestry; Scientists have predicted losses of hundreds of millions annually if the insects continue to spread. The ailanthus tree (also called the Tree of Heaven), another non-native to Asia, seems like home to them. By sucking nutrients out of the tree and excreting a sugary excess called honeydew, which attracts a dark mold, the insects sometimes fatally weaken trees. Ailanthus, black walnut, and staghorn sumac are three of its favorite victims. They also destroy an expensive agricultural plant: the vine.

“I saw a lantern fly smeared on my car windshield when I left Barnes & Noble on Clifton Commons,” said one of the Rutgers master groundskeepers. “I ran my windshield wipers and shook it off. When I got home, it was on the roof of the car!”

“Maybe that was a different spotted lanternfly,” offered a woman in an Indian print blouse, who had stopped with some SLF questions.

“Crush them every time you see them!” said Florence Rollino, who has been a kindergarten teacher for twenty-five years. “Jump very fast and jump far. You have to attack them from the front. That’s the direction they jump, like a plane taking off.”

“They only have one real jump, so you can usually catch them on the second jump,” said Susan Ripoll, another kindergarten teacher. Or so I’ve been told. I hate killing anything. These insects are somewhat lost. They are still looking for a good environment.”

“I had the nymphs all over my deck in April,” said the lady in the patterned blouse. “I thought they were little spiders until I saw they only had six legs.” She added that deer regularly climb a set of steps to get onto her deck and eat her potted plants.

The spotted lanternflies mate in August, and the greatest activity of which the New York mail so-called “sex-crazed bugs” probably explains why so many people recently took notice of them. The insects lay eggs from September to December. The eggs hatch into tiny black nymphs with white spots, the first of four instars, or nymphal stages, each of which is a larger insect than the last. After the fourth instar, the nymphs molt into adults about an inch long. They mate and then lay eggs, often in places where you can’t see them, like high up in trees. There may have been a lot of their eggs on the trees this year, and it’s easy to miss them, so we didn’t get any warning about this increase in SLF.

My sister Suzan Kwateng, a gardener with the New York City Parks Department, told me, “Spotted lanternflies are the most common insects I see in the parks where I work on Staten Island. They’re all over Brooklyn Heights, by the new library.” Part of Sue’s job is spraying weed killer. “The honeydew excreted by the insects makes the leaves look a little glassy when it falls on them,” she said. for me to know if a patch of poison ivy has already been sprayed, because the spray on the leaves also makes them look glassy.” He added that the insects had also been seen “on the west side of Manhattan, in Hudson Yards,” and that “seem to be taking over.” Downtown, they have lately been spotted on the sides of high-rise buildings. According to the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, they are drawn to any tall vertical surface and can appreciate the warmth it they provide the glass and concrete in buildings.They are not great fliers, but they can jump and hover.

Cape May County, in the southern tip of New Jersey, was seen late, after all other counties in the state. The county grows a lot of grapes, which is one reason the state agricultural experiment station in the town of Cape May Court House took an interest. I called Dr. Claudia Gil Arroyo, the county agricultural agent, and asked her what type of spotted lanternfly presence she was seeing. She said the bugs are tough on plants that are already stressed, a category that includes most of what is grown locally, because the county suffered from a drought this year. So far, fortunately, the bugs haven’t done any major damage to the vines, or to the apple, peach, or blueberry bushes, which they also like. Certain insecticides work on them, when applied directly.

Gil Arroyo said he has seen swarms of spotted lanternflies around lighted doors at night. They don’t bite or sting, but the swarmers are great even when they’re not on plants and trees, raining honey. I remember seeing swallows, bats, and larger insects like dragonflies swooping through swarms of mayflies or moths and gorging themselves, and there have been reports of birds, spiders, and praying mantises attacking the spotted lanternfly, but no predator seems to be pursuing them. . Gil Arroyo said: “People are doing studies on that. It may be that the red on the hindwings looks like the kind of visual defense signal some animals use to warn a predator of their dangerousness or toxicity. The red flash when they jump may be scaring off potential predators. So far, that’s just conjecture.” (According to Penn State Extension, there are no known toxins in insects to date.)

I sometimes see spotted lanternflies squashed on the outdoor track at a nearby park where I run. They make a conspicuous mess, with the mess of wings and black spots and bright red shards, like McDonald’s Happy Meal toys thrown out of a car window and repeatedly crushed by wheels. The carcasses are always in a corner of the track where squirrels drop green and black shells from the overhanging branches of a black walnut. Now I understand that the bugs are up there too, doing their slow, patient number on the tree. ♦

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