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Experts propose new method to combat invasive insect's spread: 'We're at war and we're losing'

One study showed that eradication efforts are already making a difference.

One study showed that eradication efforts are already making a difference.

Photo Credit: iStock

The highly invasive spotted lanternfly has caused millions of dollars of agricultural damage along the U.S. East Coast and Midwest since it first appeared stateside about a decade ago. Now, some experts are calling on a new ally to help "eat away" at the problem: birds.

What's happening?

"We're at war and we're losing," the Washington Post declared about the invasive spotted lanternfly, which is slowly migrating westward.

Native to Southeast Asia, this insect causes millions of dollars in damage each year to U.S. agricultural land, particularly vineyards. And while citizens in affected states have followed the orders of officials asking them to crush these invasive insects, it's just not enough, the publication reported.

Now, some researchers are looking into how native birds can help eat away at the problem. So far, they found that most birds prefer not to eat lanternflies that have consumed one of the insect's favorite foods: the tree of heaven, another invasive and destructive species. As a result, some biologists suggest widespread or localized removal of these trees to encourage more birds to prey on lanternflies.

Why is the eradication of lanternflies important?

Lanternflies extract plant sap and feed indiscriminately on more than 70 plant species. Since the pest's arrival in the United States about a decade ago, it has caused $43 million in agricultural damage at vineyards, fruit and nut orchards, and lumber forests.

This invasive species also leaves behind a sugary liquid that attracts other insects and aids in the proliferation of black sooty mold. This can negatively affect plant growth and yield secondary fungal infections in these plants.

Spotted lanternflies are slowly expanding westward, and one study projected that they will reach California's wine-producing counties by 2027.

These little insects are just one challenge that farmers face. For instance, the Midwest's Ogallala Aquifer, which serves farming communities throughout the country, appears to be running dry due to our changing climate. Meanwhile, prices for kitchen staples like olive oil are on the rise due to ongoing droughts across the globe.

What can I do to help with the spotted lanternfly problem?

While the problem is immense, everyday citizens can help squash out lanternflies — literally. 

One study showed that eradication efforts are already making a difference. For example, in Pennsylvania, sightings declined from 150,000 in 2019 to 61,000 in 2021.

If you're not into stomping on bugs, you can use this bottle trick shared by one TikToker. Alternatively, you can enlist the help of local birds by attracting them to your yard — birdbaths, feeders, and birdhouses will help make your spot more bird-friendly.

It's also important to keep an eye out for other invasive species like the tiger mosquito and garlic mustard. It's best to squash or pull these non-natives on sight to help stop their spread.

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