Invasive Spotted Lanternfly Gains a Foothold in Connecticut

An adult spotted lanternfly with brown wings and black spots shares a tree branch with several late-stage nymphs, characterized by their red color and white spots. (Steve Ausmus/USDA)

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So far, Connecticut has been spared the widespread swarms of plant-hopping insects that have become an annual summer nightmare in states to the south – but the spread of the spotted lanternfly, and the slick mold and dead vines that come with them, appears inevitable.

Native to east Asia, the spotted lanternfly was first spotted in southeastern Pennsylvania in 2014. Without the natural predators that keep it in check in its natural home, the distinctive flying insect has infested much of the mid-Atlantic. 

In recent years, the spotted lanternfly has also established populations in Fairfield and New Haven counties. There have been some reports already this year – especially from Fairfield County where the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has been trying to raise awareness of the insect given sightings in past years, said Deputy State Entomologist Victoria Smith.

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The US Department of Agriculture researchers have also spotted lanternflies in Milford, and there is a “fairly substantial” population near the Merritt Parkway rest stop in Orange, Smith said.

A map showing the ten towns with confirmed populations of spotted lanternflies in Fairfield and New Haven counties, as of October 2021. {Credit: Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station}

“July and August is when you’re really going to see a lot of adults out there, and the adults will be around until we have a hard freeze,” Smith said. “In some areas of the shoreline, we didn’t get a hard freeze until almost December.”

The insects are just becoming adults now – when they become large and colorful, fly around and are easily spotted – so it’s not clear yet how far they have spread, but Smith said she expects to see more reports of sightings soon.

“If you see it, snap a photograph of it. And then squash it,” said Smith, who has been tracking the insect’s spread for the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Residents can email sightings to her at ReportSLF@ct.gov.

Some of the insects may still be in their fourth stage of growth, where they grow to about the size of a thumbnail and take on a bright red color with black lines and white spots – and they stand out because they look unlike any native insects, Smith said.

This graphic shows what the spotted lanternfly looks like at each stage of its life. {Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture}




But early July is when most of the lanternflies reach their adult form – about an inch long with large, light brown wings with black spots. The back wings, which show when the insects open their wings, have distinctive patches of red and black.

In addition to the nuisance of large, winged insects swarming around, the spotted lanternfly excretes a slick substance that is colloquially referred to as honeydew, Smith said. 

The “liquid bug poop” makes the surfaces it covers slippery – enough to make someone lose their footing – and its sugars attract bees and wasps, Smith said. It’s also shown to be a breeding ground for a black, “sooty mold.”

“If you’re sitting outside on a warm summer evening enjoying the sunset, you don’t want to have bug poop raining down on you,” Smith said. “It’s pretty disgusting, so it’s going to be a real nuisance when we get more areas established with it.”

Smith said there haven’t been reports of the spotted lanternfly damaging crops in Connecticut yet. But the insects have shown a preference for grape vines, which they swarm to in the late summer – sucking the sap out of the vines and killing them. 

Vineyards across the country have taken notice, as a recent North Carolina State University study projected the insects – now limited to the east coast – could reach California’s wine country as soon as 2027 and cost the industry billions of dollars.

“I think it’s inevitable that we will get large populations of this thing, in at least some areas of the state,” Smith said.

For now, it’s a waiting game to see how long it takes for the spotted lanternfly to spread over Connecticut. There doesn’t appear to be a way to stop them, but humans play a major role in spreading the lanternfly, and they can also play a role in slowing them down.

“It lays eggs on anything that stands still long enough, and in Pennsylvania at least, they have found that it travels very efficiently on transportation corridors, such as highways and railroads,” Smith said. “That means it’s hitching a ride, stowing away on rail cars, trucks, automobiles, basically anything that moves is going to move the spotted lanternfly.”

The state has a quarantine order in place to prevent people from moving objects that might be infested with the lanternflies or their eggs, and people should be careful to make sure they aren’t hosting the insects when traveling from places with established populations.

And if anyone sees a spotted lanternfly, they should kill it to make sure it doesn’t reproduce. But first, take a photo of it to send to Smith at ReportSLS@ct.gov.