The case *against* killing spotted lanternflies?

I’m a reporter at Vox, and I’m just wondering if anyone here is against killing spotted lanternflies. I’ve heard that they potentially can provide food for honeybees and birds, and there isn’t clear evidence that they are currently dealing a lot of damage to crops. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! You can reach me here or at benji.jones@vox.com. Thanks!

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I have a followup question for anybody in the “US lanternfly zone” about the birds idea. This week I saw house sparrows picking at killed lanternflies, but not going after them on their own- but I was only able to watch for a short time before leaving the zone.

For people with more chance to watch, have you seen anything interesting re what birds are doing with the situation, and if so are some types of birds doing more than other types?

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While spotted lanternflies do leave honeydew which can be used by Honeybees, I would point out the honeybee is also a non-native bee and it can compete and spread disease to native pollinators. Honeybees are doing fine anyway any them not having access to one new food source wouldn’t be a big deal. I am honestly for getting rid of a lot of the amount of honeybees, after a neighbor with them moved nearby I see a lot less native bees in my yard. Honeybees are not the bees that need saving.

I would assume while birds can eat them they are providing competition too against native insects which evolved with the birds and plants around here. The lantern flies love Ailanthus altissima(Tree Of Heaven) which is another invasive is the preferred food source of them and i really really want to see that tree controlled more.

I can’t really see a case being made against killing them.

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I’m modestly opposed to the message that we need to stomp out the spotted lanternfly, for two reasons.

1/ I don’t think current human interventions will prevent this species from spreading pretty widely in North America (projection of possible range here https://entomologytoday.org/2019/10/03/invasive-spotted-lanternfly-large-potential-range-united-states-beyond/) These interventions may slow the spread of the spotted lanternfly, but I doubt by much at all. (Still all over Philly in spite of intensive efforts.)

2/ Some interventions are worse than useless (excessive use of harmful pesticides, bad for native insects and other creatures).

We’ve been here before. EO Wilson called the campaign against the fire ant “the Vietnam of entomology.” The campaign against the spotted lanternfly is the Iraq.

Not against some as yet undiscovered biocontrol methods–these guys ARE bad for farmers.

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I would love to see a Vox article about how ‘Save the Bees’ has turned into "save the european honey bee and not any of all of the other insects and et cetera that act as pollinators’. It seems like it’s missing the point entirely

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Please consider interviewing actual scientists working in this field before putting anything out there in popular press. It is well established within scientific literature that laternflies are a major concern for grape production in particular since they both feed by sucking sugars out of the phloem and excrete honeydew, less likely food for honeybees and usually food for mold, which eventually causes leaf loss.

Many introduced or invasive species provide some ecosystem services. For example, the invasive nutria in North America is a source of food for eagles and hawks, but their burrowing is devastating for marshes, wetlands, shorelines, etc.

Look for the evidence in scientific papers before you take a non specialist at their word that there isn’t clear evidence.

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I personally don’t see any benefits to spotted lanternflies. Even though they benefit honey bees, I agree with bryannamar in that honey bees directly compete with our native bees. It has been found that spotted lanternflies have caused significant damage to certain plants and crops, especially in such large numbers.

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Check out the iNat project Spotted Lanternfly predation in the U.S. Looks like 13 bird species across 19 bird observations have been seen eating lanternflies.

EDIT: It is not my intention to draw any conclusions beyond the fact that some native birds have been observed eating SLF. I am in no way promoting SLF as a boon to native avifauna.

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The only reason why I have stopped killing them myself is because of limited time resources. I’ve seen and fought many invasives - there are a couple of hundred being tracked by iMapInvasives in Pennsylvania - and I think we need to better prioritize what we are going after and what would have the most beneficial impact. Often I see social media posts of an invasive Preying Mantis perched on some invasive plant eating a Spotted Lanternfly, demonstrating how completely we are replacing all aspects of the natural ecosystems here, yet the only thing people care about is that the Spotted Lanternfly has died, without looking at the bigger picture. (The house sparrow mentioned above is another example of an invasive species).
There is also the question of collateral damage. How are people killing the SLF? There are many ways to do so. If you cause damage to other native wildlife, are you doing more harm than good? I’ve only killed them by hand - perhaps with the greatest impact being to destroy egg masses. There’s been a lot of documentation of sticky traps trapping other wildlife. I don’t trust any kind of spray to only kill SLF and not impact any other organism. If I could wave a magic wand and put them back in their native range I would, but there’s no realistic, practical way to get the lid back on the box now without harming something else. I have resigned myself to their existence here.

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Yes there is absolutely damage to crops; entire vineyards have been wiped out. Depends on what you mean by “a lot”.

This is exactly what my lab is working on. :) I agree that where populations are established, you’d be wasting your time trying to squash them all by hand. Pesticides are effective, but they have to sprayed frequently and in large quantities, which isn’t great. We have some promising leads with fungal pathogens, but we’re mostly working on identifying them. Someone else will have to work on producing the biopesticide; some products already exist that can eliminate SLF populations without much effect on native insects.

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I’ve been told their honeydew is producing some odd tasting honey as well, so I wouldn’t even say its great for the honey industry.

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Have been meaning to try some lanternfly honey
https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/unusual-honey-pennsylvania

Have observed bees feeding on lanternfly activity on A altissima…

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I think they’re kind of cute… not that this fact has any real bearing on the situation one way or the other.

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I would reach out to Penn State Extension and/or the PA Department of Agriculture about this. Not only do they have the data on crop damage (my notes from a program of theirs says up to 90% crop yield loss for vineyards which is very significant), but I believe they have photos of entire vineyards wiped out by SLF.

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These responses are all so helpful — thanks for contributing.

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I have always seen it compared to the idea of we were told birds are going extinct and everyone started raising chickens in their backyard to save the birds.

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Don’t work with lanternflies in any professional regard (but do experience them firsthand in central NJ) but their spread seems pretty hard to stop too, given how pervasive of an invasive Ailanthus is.
Also: anecdotal evidence from a friend near philly says theres noticeably less this year compared to last year, which was less than the year before, wonder if this pattern will continue and their populations will sort of settle like how Halyomorpha stinkbugs did, still widely present and an issue for crops (moreso than an issue for native plants), but no huge swarms after a few generations in a new locality

I also wonder how much the edge habitat and disturbance present in cultivated areas like vineyards affects how hard lanternflies hit grapes? Since the disturbance is good for invasive host plants like Ailanthus and Celastrus. I’ve noticed that Juglans nigra and virginia creeper seem to get hit hard by lanternflies, but only when they’re growing near the lanternfles’ preferred hosts like Ailanthus that they seem to really need to thrive, wonder if its sort of a “caught in the crossfire” sort of deal, with preferable food plants growing near their primary host

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i think asking the general public to kill Spotted Lanternflies is a bad idea. besides having unknown efficacy, i think it can lead to mixed messaging about the seriousness of the threat. for example, here’s Kate McKinnon telling people that they should kill SLFs, while winking and suggesting that she’s not going to follow that same guidance: https://youtu.be/L2eygzQzyug?t=48.

it would be better messaging, i think, to ask folks to track sightings of SLFs and to report them to local authorities (so that they can kill them with a little more seriousness) as a primary message, and then secondarily saying that folks can kill SLFs, if they like (as opposed to should kill). this way, regular folks can still appreciate and meaningfully help to combat the threat without getting into the moral squishiness of having to kill something by their own hands (unless they want to).

down in my area (Houston), Chinese Tallow (Triadica sebifera) is a great food source for honeybees and birds, and i don’t think there’s evidence that Tallow trees would damage crops, but they can easily turn large areas into monocultures, pushing out all other vegetation. so they are still devastating from an ecological perspective.

i don’t know whether Spotted Lanternflies are similarly devastating to native ecosystems, but they sure have spread quickly. here’s a thread with visualizations of the spread: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/map-showing-spread-of-spotted-lanternfly-since-2016/6377, and here’s my own attempt to visualize: https://youtu.be/wB_kI4cDgSU.

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One way or the other, they’re probably here to stay for the foreseeable future in most of the Eastern US, and with that in mind, I think they’re cute and it’s pretty fun to have big planthoppers where I’m able to see them without crossing oceans.

(On a more serious note, my personal feelings on their invasiveness and the public response is that there are things that are far more detrimental to native habitats and wildlife that should be getting far more resources and attention, and that the crowdsourced lanternfly-death-squad approach is a bit silly.)

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Oh yeah honestly? Lanternflies have gotta be the most fun looking invasive bug we have in the eastern US (Promalactis suzukiella probably a close second), they’re not Pyrops or Fulgora level cool but I love being able to see big Fulgorids alive with my own eyes

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