URI scientists ask Rhode Islanders to observe for arrival of one other invasive insect – URI Information


KINGSTON, RI – June 14, 2021 – Another pesky invasive species is slated to hit Rhode Island this summer, and experts from the University of Rhode Island are asking the public to keep an eye out for it.

The spotted lantern fly, which feeds on more than 70 different plants and is particularly harmful to grapevines, is native to China, India and Vietnam and was first detected in the USA in southeastern Pennsylvania in 2014. Since then, it has spread to eight other states, including New York and New Jersey, and it was found in multiple locations in Connecticut last year.

“We expect it to arrive here soon; This summer is very likely, ”said Lisa Tewksbury, an entomologist at URI Biocontrol Lab who monitors invasive species.

Spotted lantern flies are sap-eating cicadas and look pretty distinctive. In their earliest nymph stages, they are black with white spots, and later they turn red with black and white markings. The centimeter-long adults look like a gray-spotted moth with scarlet hind wings. They can congregate in large numbers, making them a nuisance even if they don’t damage trees and plants.

“We believe they are spreading through the transportation system,” said Tewksbury. “They’re large insects that fly around and land in trains and other vehicles, or get caught in the grids of pickups and end up being transported to new locations.”

The insect’s eggs are laid on trees – but also found on picnic tables, wooden pallets, and even in recreational vehicles – where they overwinter and hatch as nymphs in late spring. They transform into adults in late summer and are easily seen feeding, flying, and gathering in large groups. The adults die after the first frost.

Spotted lantern flies seem to prefer to feed on the Tree of Heaven, an invasive tree that scientists would like to reduce in number. But the insects are also having a devastating economic impact on Pennsylvania’s vineyards. In addition, maple trees, black walnut trees and ornamental trees and shrubs are severely affected in some areas.

Because of these effects, research teams from across the northeast are studying how to deal with these insects. Some efforts are focused on testing the use of horticultural oils and biopesticides that can be sprayed on affected plants and trees. Tewksbury and her lab director Alana Russell are part of a team testing whether parasitic insects from China that hunt lantern flies will also harm native insects if released here.

The URI researchers are also looking for the Tree of Heaven in Rhode Island to look for evidence of lantern fly nymphs or adult animals. There they want help from the population.

Tewksbury and Russell seek assistance in this monitoring. Those who live near sky trees or grapevines are asked to check them regularly for spotted lantern flies and to take a picture and collect a specimen if any of the insects are found. Photos should be sent to Tewksbury at lisat@uri.edu.

For more information and a link to a reporting form for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, see https://web.uri.edu/biocontrol/spotted-lanternfly.