By now you have likely seen them again, those beautiful red winged plant-hoppers that threaten our vineyards, orchards, hardwoods and economy. Maybe you’ve even killed a few adult invasive spotted lanternflies as you were hiking.

A new trap method has gained attention this summer, and its not too late to try it on your property, according to Emelie Swackhamer, a Penn State Extension horticulture educator based in Montgomery County. Sticky bands are not useful now for adult spotted lanternflies. She suggests killing the pest by stomping, hitting with a fly swatter or sucking them up with a shop vacuum first. 

Experts say this is the time of year to really focus on the pests’ favorite habitat (Ailanthus altissima trees, more commonly known as tree of heaven) and to prevent them from traveling to new territory.

Stop the hitchhiker

As of May, 26 counties in Pennsylvania are under quarantine for spotted lanternfly, which means people living and working there are required to check their vehicles when traveling out of the area. The state requires businesses to have permits to haul anything outside the quarantine zone. The pest has been found in five other states in the northeastern United States, according to the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which has a pest tracker. 

Some research published in the Journal of Entomology in October suggests the pest could spread to states as far away as Michigan and California. The new habitat-modeling study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture findings show large swaths of the United States and beyond are likely to be vulnerable should the spotted lanternfly continue to spread.

Tewodros Wakie, Ph.D., research ecologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), led a team in studying climate data from the spotted lanternfly’s native range in Asia and areas it has invaded in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and they compared that information with climate data for other global regions to model likely suitable habitat for the insect.

Their results show that the spotted lanternfly could become established in most of New England and the mid-Atlantic states as well as parts of the central U.S. and Pacific Northwest. Globally, they also found suitable habitat in much of Europe plus parts of eastern Asia and the southern reaches of Africa, Australia and South America.

“Locations with high risk of spotted lanternfly establishment should consider taking preventive measures,” Wakie said in a news release. “Early detection is key to control and eradication.”

Awareness important

This is why awareness is so important in Pennsylvania.

In early March, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture expanded the quarantine to include 12 counties in which there were isolated insect populations. This was a change in methodology, as the previously quarantined counties, including Berks, had widespread infestations.

The state’s map shows that the populations crop up around transportation corridors, highlighting the fact that the insect spreads by hitchhiking with travelers leaving infested areas, according to according to Shannon Powers, Department of Agriculture press secretary.

“It does not spread naturally — it has help from humans,” Powers said. “The new quarantine method was intended in part to raise awareness of the insect in broader areas of the state.”

Powers said awareness of spotted lanternfly has definitely increased, though it is difficult to measure any increase in the insect population.

“We don’t have sufficient data to evaluate the extent of its spread, but there is research underway,” Powers said.

Statewide, from the beginning of January through July, the state had 41,329 public reports of spotted lanternflies, 

“In the same time period last year, we had 16,747 reports,” Powers said. 

This is a 146.8{3e0544090c75b66d16c3eca4d142e2092ea98ee5f79f18046a1f13abafab9023} increase, which has been reported incorrectly as a 500{3e0544090c75b66d16c3eca4d142e2092ea98ee5f79f18046a1f13abafab9023} increase.

Interestingly, outside of quarantined counties, reports are generally false, she said. In Berks County and the southeast part of the state where the insects are widespread, reports are as much as 90 percent accurate. People recognize spotted lanternflies because they are a major nuisance.

Powers said teams of PA Deptartment of Agriculture and USDA inspectors follow up on every report in newly quarantined counties and outside the quarantine, treating confirmed sightings as appropriate. The teams are also conducting proactive surveys in newly quarantined counties and outside the quarantined counties to check for evidence of the insect’s spread.

“Right now, it is crucial for anyone traveling in and outside the quarantined counties to be vigilant, and ‘look before you leave’ to prevent transporting insects to a new home,” Powers said. “It is also important to report insects to 1-888-422-3359 or on the PSU website.”

Reports from the public provide valuable data for researching insect populations and stopping its spread, Powers said.

Attack its home

The rapidly growing tree of heaven can be tough for property owners to control. Now is the time to do it because late-summer herbicide applications work best.

“This is not your ordinary tree — it is difficult to eliminate due to its prolific seed production and root-sprouting ability,” Penn State Extension educator David Jackson, who specializes in forest resources management, said in a news release. 

Tree of heaven is not a native plant, but it’s been around for a while. It  was introduced to Philadelphia in the late 1700s for use as an urban street tree. It also was planted widely in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas. From these regions, it spread and became a common invasive plant in urban, agricultural and forested areas.

The species is dioecious, meaning a tree is either male or female and usually grows in dense colonies or clones. Female trees are prolific seeders with the potential to produce more than 300,000 seeds annually. These seeds are dispersed by the wind throughout the fall and winter.

Once established, tree of heaven continually spreads by sending up what Jackson described as “root suckers,” which can emerge as far as 50 feet from the parent tree.

“Tree of heaven can sprout anywhere, including in sidewalk cracks,” Jackson said of the species, which can reach 80 feet in height and 4 feet in diameter. “It does not provide useful wood products or food for beneficial insects and other wildlife. In short, it does more harm than good.”

While people might not be enthralled with tree of heaven, the same is not true for the ravenous spotted lanternfly, another invasive species. The insect’s attraction to the tree’s sap as a food source has led to a control tactic that involves destroying a high percentage of tree of heaven trees on a property with herbicides and using those remaining as trap trees.

These trap trees are treated with a systemic insecticide, either a soil drench, injection or a bark spray, which is absorbed by the tree and then ingested by feeding spotted lanternflies.

While the trap tree method is useful for killing spotted lanternflies, Jackson said the method works best for property owners with individual tree of heaven yard trees or a small clonal patch.

“It is challenging for those without forestry or landscaping expertise to deal with a large colony of trees because the root systems are so aggressive and difficult to control,” Jackson said.

Timing is essential

Timing is essential when using tree of heaven as a trap tree.

“If you apply an insecticide too early in the season, you will destroy some nymphs,” Jackson said. “But by September, when the adults are swarming, that same insecticide may have lost its effectiveness and cannot be applied again due to label specifications. My recommendation is to target spotted lanternfly adults and use the trap tree method in late summer to prevent female spotted lanternflies from laying eggs.”

Property owners are encouraged to learn how to identify tree of heaven and take measures to control it, especially the female trees, which have yellowish-red seed clusters hanging from their branches now.

“There is misinformation out there on how to get rid of tree of heaven,” Jackson said. “Many people make the mistake of simply cutting it down, which triggers the root system to send up hundreds of sprouts.”

He said the best way to control the tree is to target the roots with systemic herbicides when the tree is moving carbohydrates to the roots. This takes place from July until the onset of fall color.

Herbicides applied to foliage, bark or cuts on the stem all are effective. He recommends cutting the tree and treating the stump only as a last resort as his studies have shown that this kills the stump but does not control the roots.

There are many herbicides available for use on tree of heaven, Jackson noted. It is important to follow all instructions on the label and to use the proper concentration — ready-to-use formulations with only 1{3e0544090c75b66d16c3eca4d142e2092ea98ee5f79f18046a1f13abafab9023} to 2{3e0544090c75b66d16c3eca4d142e2092ea98ee5f79f18046a1f13abafab9023} active ingredient are not sufficient.

Penn State is holding a free a webinar on Wednesday at 7 p.m. on identification and control of the tree of heaven. You can register at

Here is a video about how to identify a tree of heaven

Penn State Extension has photos, fact sheets and videos on tree of heaven control, which can be found at

To learn more about how to manage the pest on your property go to:

To learn more about the Spotted Lanternfly, the Reading Eagle has a collection of articles at or check out or on the Penn State Extension website.