Sustainability Climate Change

Could climate change mean the spotted lanternfly is here to stay?

Experts think that a warming climate could increase the species’ range and make explosions in the population harder to control or predict.
This photo shows a Spotted Lanternfly, in Long Branch, N.J., Aug. 7, 2022. Kill-on-sight requests in New York City and elsewhere are part of an aggressive campaign against an invasive pest that has spread to about a dozen states in eight years. (Heide Estes via AP)

Story at a glance


  • Some scientists worry that warming temperatures caused by climate change could make it harder to eradicate the spotted lanternfly.  

  • The inch-long bug is easily identified by its long grey wings with black spots and red undersides. It is an invasive species that scientists believe arrived in the country via a stone shipment from China.  

  • While the bug poses no threat to humans, it is harmful to many plant and tree species.  

Warming global temperatures might make it harder to completely squash the spotted lanternfly population in the United States, experts fear.  

The species, originally from southeast Asia, was first spotted in the United States in 2014 and has since spread to 12 states in New England and the mid-Atlantic, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.   

“As spotted lanternfly has continued to spread, predictive models have indicated that this insect has the potential to establish in much of the eastern and midwestern US as well as parts of the west coast,” Tracy Lesky, supervisory research entomologist at USDA-ARS’ Appalachian Fruit Research Laboratory, wrote to Changing America in an email.  


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Despite its name, the spotted lanternfly can only fly short distances and is a planthopper, meaning they typically get around by jumping from leaf to leaf, making them great hitchhikers.

Experts think that the insect arrived in the country as egg masses on a stone shipment from China in 2012, according to the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program at Cornell University.  

The first infestation was found in Pennsylvania’s Berk’s County in a wooded area filled with a fellow invasive species, Tree of Heaven.  

Since then, the species has spread to all the states surrounding Pennsylvania with individual insects having been seen as far south as North Carolina and as far north as Vermont and upstate New York.  

Although the bug poses no direct threat to humans — they do not sting or bite — they are harmful to numerous plants and trees.

Spotted lanternflies are known to feed on the sap of more than 70 different types of trees including maple, walnut and willow and crops like grapes, apples, hops, peaches and plums, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

To reach the sap, the bug drills tiny holes into the body of trees or plants. While these holes and sap drainage can weaken the spotted lanternfly’s hosts, most of the bug’s destructive power comes from its sticky waste, called honeydew, which falls on leaves and fruit causing it to mold, said Matthew Helmus, a spotted lanternfly expert at Temple University’s Integrative Ecology Lab.  

Since the insect first arrived in the U.S., state and local officials have urged residents to kill the insect on sight and in some cases have even issued quarantines to stop its spread.  

But some experts worry that those efforts might not be enough and that climate change will make it more challenging to get rid of spotted lanternflies for good.  

Spotted lanternflies prefer warmer climates, and earlier springs and longer summers caused by climate change in northern parts of the country mean that its range could grow.  

“They have a longer growing season,” Helmus told Changing America. With longer summers, comes more plants that are able to feed longer, providing the spotted lanternfly with more food, which in turn can make them bigger and more likely to lay more eggs.  

Adult spotted lanternflies do not live through the winter months and begin to lay eggs in September. And as fall and winter become less harsh, that gives the eggs and spotted lanternfly nymphs, a term for their juvenile stages, a greater chance of surviving into adulthood.  

On the other hand, if there are states experiencing cold snaps earlier than years prior that could cause eggs and young lanternflies to die in greater numbers. Researchers are currently trying to figure out just how hot and how cold temperatures the insects can withstand, but average daily temperatures during the winter months below 26 degrees Fahrenheit have shown to the fatal for the bugs’ eggs, Melody Keena, a research entomologist at the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station in Connecticut, said.  

Shifting temperatures stemming from climate change can make it difficult to predict potential lanternfly population growth.  

“Depending on if it’s a hot year or a cold year, or if there are cold snaps or warm snaps, really causes variance in lanternfly outbreaks,” said Helmus. “What we are finding is that because of climate change, it might be that you see more of these sorts of large explosions of lanternflies because it just so happens to be the perfect year for them to grow.”  


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