A tracing technique involving a stable nitrogen isotope is giving scientists a new window into the life cycle of the invasive spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula). Sprayed on host plants, the isotope is ingested by spotted lanternflies that feed on them, thus labeling the insects so they can be traced for life, from egg to adult. (Photo by Emelie Swackhamer, Penn State University, Bugwood.org)
Since its arrival in Pennsylvania in 2014, the invasive spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) has afflicted not only U.S. foresters, orchardists, farmers, and others dependent on growing plants for a living but also homeowners who like to keep patios and backyards neat. Vividly marked with red, black, white, and yellow hues that could make the most gorgeous of butterflies envious, this so-called fly (really a planthopper in the infraorder Fulgoromorpha), can suck the sap and life out of about 70 different plant species, from grapes to hardwoods.
Its crusty, gray egg masses, moreover, stick to almost any surface: basketball backboards, patio furniture, kiddie pools, screen doors, firewood, and motor homes, to name a few. The egg masses, which adhere even to the tires of vehicles, enable the spotted lanternfly (SLF) to travel well. In a few years, it has spread from Pennsylvania to nearby states, and, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is capable of going national.