After years of limited sightings in Connecticut, the spotted lanternfly is starting to swarm.
First spotted in the United States in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 2014, the invasive spotted lanternfly has become a major pest there and in New Jersey. It has spread quickly across the country – as far north as Vermont, south to North Carolina, and an isolated infestation as far west as Iowa.
The sap-feeding pest – known for swarming and damaging grape vines and fruit trees in the Mid-Atlantic, along with being a general nuisance – was first seen in Connecticut in 2019.
Since then, it’s been seen in every county, with infestations confirmed in all but Middlesex, Tolland and Windham counties. Victoria Smith, entomologist with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, said they have already fielded about 600 reports of spotted lanternflies this year – compared to 632 reports in all of 2022.
“We’re getting reports of lots and lots of insects,” Smith said. “People are calling or emailing in saying they’re just overrun with spotted lanternfly.”
The reports are heavily concentrated in Fairfield County and around Milford, Smith said.
At this time of year, people will see spotted lanternflies in their late-nymph stages – a small, red jumping insect with black markings and white spots – and their adult stage – a much larger flying insect with tan-gray wings with black spots. When the adults fly, they show vibrant red wings.
Now that the insects are reaching the adult stage, people could also see egg masses. The spotted lanternfly is especially attracted to the invasive tree of heaven, but will lay egg masses on just about any outdoor surface. The masses could be hard to identify because they look like dried mud.
In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the plant-hopping insects have become ubiquitous in the summer and are known for leaving a slick layer of mildew-like excrement under plants where they swarm to feed, called honeydew.
Those states and New York, where the insects have been spreading on a timeline similar to Connecticut, have pushed aggressive PSA campaigns urging people to squash any spotted lanternflies and destroy egg masses they find.
Smith said the same advice applies in Connecticut. Fly swatters have been a popular tool to kill adult and nymph lanternflies, and egg masses can be scraped into a bag of rubbing alcohol, soapy water or hand sanitizer, she said.
“There really hasn’t been any updates on things that homeowners can do to cut down on populations,” Smith said.
No significant natural control has emerged, either. Researchers are looking for predatory wasps and other insects that could put a dent in their population, but nothing has been found so far.
There is hope that an insecticide can be made from a naturally occurring fungus that’s been observed to infect and kill spotted lanternflies – similar to the fungus that has kept the invasive spongy moth in check, Smith said.
“People get scared when you talk about a fungus, but basically it only infects insects,” she said. “It’s not going to hurt you, or your pets, or your children, or livestock.”
So far, the biggest fear of spotted lanternflies – that they will swarm vineyards and damage grape vines like they have in eastern Pennsylvania – hasn’t occurred in Connecticut.
“We have not had reports of damage from vineyards, which is kind of a surprise,” Smith said. “That could change, but so far it’s been quiet.”
Smith said people should keep reporting sightings to ReportSLF@ct.gov.