The spotted lanternfly is one of the prettiest pests around, but is becoming a serious problem across the South.

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The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula), is a relatively new arrival in these parts. They first showed up in Pennsylvania in 2014 and have been spreading up and down the coastline, from Virginia to Florida, and across the country ever since. (This handy map shows their spread.) The little bugs are described by the Texas Invasive Speces Institute, as a "small but conspicuous insect with black spots on grayish forewings, and pinkish-red hindwings with black spots and thick striping." They have "piercing mouthparts" that they use to bite into plants and trees and suck their sap. They are pernicious, too: an infestation of lanternflies can kill off a full grown tree. They also particularly love grapes and are (rudely) threatening wine-producing regions in the U.S., as well as crops of peaches and apples. If killing off the flora and jeopardizing the wine supply wasn't bad enough, their activity also attracts wasps, hornets, and bees. In short: They aren't great house guests.

Spotted Lanternfly on Tree Trunk
Credit: Getty/Philippe Gerber

The spotted lanternflies also spread very quickly. They lay eggs in late summer and autumn and those eggs can be "unintentionally transported to any part of the country in just a few days," per The Conversation. Once those eggs hatch, the larva crawl over to the closest plant and the whole process starts anew.

When asked how worried people should be about the pretty little monsters, Frank A. Hale, professor of Horticultural Crop Entomology at the University of Tennessee, didn't beat around the bush. "Very worried," Prof. Hale told The Conversation. "Lanternflies easily build to high numbers. The area where host trees live is relatively wide, and lanternflies damage crops, the forest, and the landscape. They damage many plants and cause a major nuisance to the general public." 

Unfortunately lanternflies don't seem to have many effective natural predators, so it's up to humans to figure out a way to stop their spread. Prof. Hale pointed to a few "biological control show[ing] some promise for the future" and some "naturally occurring fungal pathogens" and parasitic insects that may be able to take down spotted lanternflies.

If you think you spot these polka dotted pests or their egg masses (Virginia Tech has pictures of the eggs that look like mud spots), the USDA recommends reporting the spotted lanternflies to your local agricultural authority and quickly taking action to prevent the spread of these bugs.