Michigan: Be on lookout for invasive spotted lanternfly

Insect has ‘potential to wreak havoc on trees, plants and other natural resources’

Adult spotted lanterfly's bright wing coloration is hidden when wings are closed. Photo courtesy of Robert Gardner, Bugwood.org.
Adult spotted lanterfly's bright wing coloration is hidden when wings are closed. Photo courtesy of Robert Gardner, Bugwood.org. (MDARD)

Michigan officials are asking residents to be on the lookout for an invasive species that hasn’t been detected in the state yet, but poses a threat to Michigan’s agriculture and natural resources.

The invasive spotted lanternfly could damage or kill more than 70 varieties of crops and plants including grapes, apples, hops, and hardwood trees, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD).

First detected in the United States in 2014 in southeastern Pennsylvania, spotted lanternfly has been spreading rapidly across the northeastern states. There have been confirmed infestations in Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.

In November 2020, MDARD and the United States Department of Agriculture confirmed dead spotted lanternfly adults found in packing material at two separate locations in Michigan, demonstrating one of the many ways this insect could find its way into the state.

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Spotted lanternfly causes direct damage by sucking sap from host plants and secreting large amounts of a sugar-rich, sticky liquid called honeydew. This honeydew and the resulting black sooty mold can kill plants and foul surfaces. The honeydew often attracts other pests like yellow jackets, flies, and ants, affecting outdoor recreation and complicating crop harvests.

Spotted lanternflies are more likely to be seen with wings folded. Look for grey to brown wings with black spots, and black-striped wing tips. (Photo courtesy of Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org.)

“Spotted lanternfly may be a colorful insect worthy of an Instagram post, but also is an invasive species with the potential to wreak havoc on trees, plants and other natural resources, resulting in millions of dollars in damages,” said Robert Miller, invasive species prevention and response specialist for MDARD. “In addition, it has the potential to impact grapes, stone fruits, apples and other crops in Michigan’s fruit belt as well as important timber species statewide.”

From late summer to the first hard frost, spotted lanternflies are in their adult stage. Adults are roughly one inch long. Their folded wings are gray to brown with black spots. Open wings reveal a yellow and black abdomen and bright red hind wings with black spots transitioning to black and white bands at the edge.

Adults are busy laying egg masses, which resemble old chewing gum, with a gray, waxy, putty-like coating. Egg masses can survive winter temperatures to hatch in the spring. Hatched eggs appear as brownish, seed-like deposits. Spotted lanternfly nymphs are wingless and are black with white spots, developing red patches in their final nymph stage.

Spotted lanternfly egg masses are gray to brown and resemble old chewing gum. (Photo courtesy of Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org.)

Related: 6 invasive insects to watch out for in Michigan

Individuals and businesses receiving shipments from states known to have spotted lanternfly should also be on the lookout for adults or egg masses on goods and packing materials.

Recent discoveries of small populations in eastern Ohio and southern Indiana, indicate spotted lanternfly continues to encroach into the Midwest. With the current rate of spread, it is possible that spotted lanternfly could reach Michigan at any time. Public awareness and reporting are essential to early detection, which provides the opportunity to contain an infestation before it becomes a widespread problem.

If you find a spotted lanternfly egg mass, nymph or adult, take one or more photos, make note of the date, time and location of the sighting, and report to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, MDA-Info@Michigan.gov or phone the MDARD Customer Service Center, 800-292-3939. If possible, collect a specimen in a container for verification.

Before traveling, check out the map of confirmed spotted lanternfly locations. For additional information on identifying or reporting, visit Michigan.gov/SpottedLanternfly.

Related: 11 invasive species to watch out for in Michigan


About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital special projects manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013.