The Student News Site of High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering

The Echo

The Student News Site of High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering

The Echo

The Student News Site of High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering

The Echo

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Shining A Light On Lanternflies

Art+by+Jayden+Cedano
Art by Jayden Cedano

In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, a theme of forbidden love takes the center stage, challenging the notion that love can conquer all obstacles. Sadly, love doesn’t always win, and as is the tragic story of Romeo and Juliet, so too is the tale of Lanternflies and New York. 

With a dusty brown cover, pitch-black spots, and hidden orange-red underwings, these unique bugs are a fantastic array of colors. The first time I beheld one of these walking masterpieces was when I moved back to New York two years ago. I found myself immediately mesmerized whilst waiting for my aunt at a restaurant by a lanternfly that had landed in front of me. It was love at first sight. But, soon after letting it fly away and conversing with my aunt, I realized I had fallen in love… with a murderer.

We, as New Yorkers, have all come across lanternflies. Just this past summer, they swarmed the city, and you were likely to see tens if not hundreds, every time you stepped outside. And, because lanternflies are an invasive species, you’ve likely squished or seen others squishing them. Many New Yorkers had taken it upon themselves to be exterminators of this supposed pest, and because of this, it became impossible to look down without seeing dead lanternflies on the sidewalk. 

Of course, this is for a good cause, right? We’ve all heard that if we let them live, they’ll eat all of our trees! But have you ever wondered what this really means? Personally, all I’d ever heard is that they nest in trees and kill them, and something about grapes too? Of course that’s terrible, but how could something so little do so much harm? What do these tiny insects really do?

Lanternflies are exceedingly sneaky creatures. They originate from China and were first detected in Philadelphia in 2014. Unlike many other invasive species initially brought as pets, the spotted lanternfly is actually thought to have been brought by a stone shipment. This reveals a large issue: not only are they sneaky, but they are easily transported and reproduce rapidly. They can lay their eggs on any smooth surface, organic or not, and their population is spread when whatever is holding their eggs is moved, be it stone or tree log. Alongside this, because their egg masses can contain thirty to fifty eggs, the transport of just one egg mass can quickly result in a large population in a new area.
Although this sounds catastrophic, it gets worse. They can lay eggs and feed on a variety of plants, including grape, hop, apple, maple, walnut, and willow. When these eggs hatch in spring or early summer, the nymph (baby) lanternflies feed on any host plants they can reach. In adulthood they begin to excrete honeydew – a sticky, sugar-rich fluid that attracts bees and wasps, and causes sooty mold to form on plants. The mold can even seep beneath the soil, infesting nearby plants as it grows, and the honeydew itself builds up on plants’ leaves, blocking sunlight and thus their ability to photosynthesize. This can be very dangerous for plants like grapevines, although, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t actually tend to kill trees.
Current concerns about lanternflies revolve around their ability to ruin an entire industry. In California, where lanternflies have not yet invaded, grapes account for a large portion of the local economy in terms of both sales and jobs. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, grapes in California amounted to a $5.54 billion crop value in 2022, their second most valued food commodity. If lanternflies manage to migrate there, their dominance over and preference for grape plants could utterly destroy this industry.

But what’s to be done about this? Our government’s main tactic appears to be simply getting us all to squish them on sight. Many New Yorkers have joined the cause, but how effective (and necessary) is this initiative? The amount of lanternflies that exist at any given moment, along with their rapid reproduction rate, is too massive to allow even the most aggressive New Yorkers to execute all of them.
The story of Lanternflies and New York City is exaggerated. Although they’re not entirely innocent, the death sentence imposed on them doesn’t accomplish what it’s supposed to. They are nuisances that curate black mold, attract bees and wasps to their sticky honeydew, and potentially pose a major threat to grape plants and the industry around them. Although framed for murder, their case doesn’t seem so clear after all. And we shouldn’t have to execute every single one we see. There are many other solutions to the lanternfly problem that don’t include quite as much movement and active violence on our part.

A worthy solution not seen often around the city is to set up traps. Some traps that have been used for lanternflies, like sticky traps, often trap other wildlife while most lanternflies actually learn to go around them. The Bronx Zoo started implementing circle traps to manipulate lanternflies’ movement patterns, which have proven to be much more effective than sticky traps. With widespread usage of circle traps, we can more effectively eliminate lanternflies without the environmental drawbacks of sticky traps or pesticides.

Although lanternflies lack natural predators, there are already several creatures in the States that can eat lanternflies. A variety of bugs, such as garden spiders and praying mantises, have been observed eating lanternflies and could rise up to be saviors of the grape industry. Other bugs, like wheel bugs, may even eat lanternflies right as they hatch, preventing them from doing any harm. 

Our main focus as people concerned about the invasive lanternfly needs to evolve from the murderous image we have for them. While squishing one does result in one less lanternfly on the streets, we need to come up with other ideas for preventing a crisis. Instead, we should implement other forms of population control, like using traps and predators to limit their population. But for now, we’re stuck with these little guys and we need to grow and change with lanternflies, moving on from ineffective squish-em-all tactics. By putting the focus on limiting their population numbers through alternative measures, maybe we can finally appreciate them for the colorful spectacle they are. 

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