Invasive lanternfly first spotted by ‘astute’ central Iowan

By: - July 27, 2022 1:39 pm

Spotted lanternfly nymphs turn from black with white spots to red with black and white spots before they become adults. (Photo by Peter L. Coffey/University of Maryland Extension)

The spotted lanternfly — an invasive plant hopper from China that can kill grapevines and many trees — was found in central Iowa this month and spurred a swift response to contain and eradicate it.

“The day that they called us, we had a whole herd of people out there looking for any other signs of spotted lanternflies, or a spent egg mass,” said Robin Pruisner, state entomologist for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. “We were trying to find a mode of transportation, which is usually eggs getting laid on something, and that something being moved. It looks like a smear of mud.”

An “astute” resident who lives near the county line that divides Dallas and Polk counties first glimpsed a young lanternfly — a little, black beetle-looking creature with white spots — on a maple tree and captured it for official identification, Pruisner said. The person found another in the area about a week later.

“We’re very appreciative of that person,” she said.

The area is under heavy residential construction, and Pruisner said it’s likely the insects hitched a ride on some landscaping material.

The herd of people was unable to find an egg mass, and no other lanternflies were seen in the area. The bugs do not travel great distances on their own because — despite their name — they jump and glide more than fly.

Adult spotted lanternflies can start laying eggs in September. (Photo by Peter L. Coffey/University of Maryland Extension)

The discovered lanternflies had yet to turn red with black and white spots, which is the last nymph stage before becoming an adult with a chance to lay eggs. Adults are about an inch long, with gray wings spotted with black that sit like a long tent on their backs. Their underneath or hind wings are red, black and white.

The egg-laying stage can start in September, with the eggs hatching in May. Each female adult is believed to lay at least 60 eggs each year.

The insect was first discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014 and has since established notable populations in 11 states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The closest one to Iowa is Indiana.

IDALS plans to put out traps and lures in the area and to monitor another invasive Chinese transplant: The tree of heaven.

The tree of heaven is a favorite of spotted lanternflies. (Photo by Paul Wray/Iowa State University)

The name is a bit of a misnomer because it releases offensive odors from its ornate flowers and is a favorite for the lanternfly. Research has shown that adult lanternflies that feed on the tree can lay many more eggs and lay them sooner.

The tree of heaven — taxonomically known as ailanthus altissima — is sporadically present in Iowa, Pruisner said. They will be watched for lanternflies.

The insects can swarm trees and plunge their tubelike mouths into bark to slurp sap. They secrete a sweet sticky fluid that builds on trunks or on the nearby ground and can get moldy.

Those in Iowa who suspect they have found a spotted lanternfly can contact IDALS’ Entomology and Plant Science Bureau at (515) 725-1470 or [email protected]

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.