Have you spotted an unusually bright-colored moth near your home? You’re likely seeing a new invasive species: the spotted lanternfly (SLF). Native to China, India, and Vietnam, this unwelcome pest was discovered in the US in 2014 and has since spread to more than 14 states. If you’re seeing adults or nymphs in your own backyard, you may have to act fast to protect plant and tree species in your yard.
This article can help you better understand how to get rid of spotted lanternflies around your yard. Once we explain how you can identify this invasive pest, we walk through the products and methods you can use to protect backyard plants and control SLF in your yard.
Table of Contents
Spotted Lanternfly Identification and Life Cycle
Before we get into the meat and potatoes of cultural and biological control, we need to answer a fundamental question: what is the spotted lanternfly anyway?
The spotted lanternfly is a type of moth native to east Asian countries like China, India, and Vietnam. Sometimes referred to as SLF, these pests have become economically significant pests on the East Coast due to their proclivity for soybeans, stonefruits, grape vines, and other plants. These pests kill plants and destroy agricultural livelihoods while crowding out native species and disrupting natural ecosystems.
You can understand the lifecycle of the spotted lanternfly in three stages:
- Eggs: In late summer, adult spotted lanternflies find a mate and lay their eggs on any flat surface. Since their eggs are often hard to identify, it’s not uncommon for breeding populations to go unnoticed until after nymphs hatch in the spring.
- Nymphs: There are four different instars of spotted lanternflies, each of which look like larger versions than the last. These six-legged bugs sport an all-black carapace with white spots and red colorations depending on their age.
- Adults: Spotted lanternfly nymphs become adults in less than a year. They don’t live long after they find a mate and lay their eggs in early fall, although the next generation typically emerges a few months later in spring.
Now, let’s take a closer look at how to identify spotted lanternfly activity depending on their stage of life.
Adult moths are possibly the easiest lifecycle stage to identify around the house.
You can identify adult spotted lanternflies by their:
- Spotted wings. Adult spotted lanternflies have gray and tan wings with red underwings that only appear in flight.
- Large legs and eyes. You can easily see the eyes and legs of SLF adults from a distance. Look for six thick legs bowed up on the surfaces where they rest.
- Large size. The adult spotted lanternfly is slightly bigger than a US quarter, which is 24.26 millimeters in diameter.
Even though the adult SLF is the most accessible life stage to see, their activity isn’t an ecological danger — it’s the activity of their nymphs. Young nymphs hop great distances to access food from plant to plant, causing massive damage to tree bark, leaves, and herbaceous plants.
You can identify spotted lanternfly nymphs by:
- Their polka dots. Every instar of the spotted lanternfly nymph has a black body with white spots.
- Their red coloration. Watch for 4th stage instars of spotted lanternflies, which sport bright red color patterns and polka-dotted carapaces. Remember that early nymphs (instars one through four) do not have a bright red appearance.
- Their jumping behavior. Immature spotted lanternflies jump extraordinary distances to escape squishing or capture. Try aiming a few inches before the pest or using a larger instrument to strike them on the ground.
Spotted lanternfly adults and nymphs cause massive amounts of damage to both backyard, ornamental, and agricultural plants. However, failing to spot and dispose of their egg masses could make the problem worse.
How do you identify spotted lanternfly eggs? That primarily depends on how closely you want to look.
You can identify SLF egg masses by:
- The white or brown residue. This pale gunk is easy to spot.
- Grey-brown egg cases running up and down trees. Use your fingers to find the raised portions.
- What looks like white fungus ‘growing’ on your tree. Ask an arborist for help if you’re unsure.
Now that we’ve discussed the lifecycle and identification process of spotted lanternflies, it’s time to explore what it takes to kill SLF at any stage of life.
How do you get rid of spotted lanternflies?
Getting rid of spotted lanternflies is no easy task. Thankfully, there are an abundance of products, tools, and systemic insecticides you can use to defend your property and native insect species.
Here’s the quick version to get you started:
- Squish adults against trees
- Try injections for tree trunks
- Encourage natural predators
- Scrape egg masses into a plastic bag
- Spray vinegar for contact kills
- Spray insecticides, vinegar, hand sanitizer, or Dawn soap
- Install traps for immature stages
- Drop nymphs into hand sanitizer
- Use injections on certain tree species
Now that we’ve looked at the crash course on SLF control, let’s take a closer look at how to kill SLF adults, egg masses, and nymphs.
Insecticides & Chemical Control
There are two different ways to approach SLF control: the use of natural compounds, or insecticides.
We’ve broken these down into their own separate sections so you can make an informed decision for your property.
Here are some ways to kill SLF without damaging or killing affected trees or herbaceous plants.
- Tree injections: You can hire a professional arborist to inject tree trunks with a systemic insecticide. Not only can this get rid of eggs, but it can also dissuade nymphs from climbing up the tree bark. Since trunk injections pose little if any risk to ground water, you can continue to treat with systemic insecticides for years to come.
- Trunk spray: To prevent adults from laying eggs. spray your tree trunk with a mix of one of the following:
Trees treated with trunk or foliar spray have a higher likelihood of staying pest-free. The insecticide residue can also prevent egg masses from cropping up in the future.
- Soil drench: You can apply a soil drench of systemic insecticides so spotted lanternflies can’t lay eggs during late summer and early fall. Remember: soil drenching could potentially affect tree roots and lead to pesticide contamination. Proceed with caution and follow best practices for your area.
- Dawn dish soap: Mix equal parts Dawn and water to spray on spotted lanternflies. Keep in mind you must make contact with the pest to kill them completely.
- Vinegar: A spray bottle of vinegar is an effective way to kill insects on contact. Be sure to thoroughly soak the egg, nymph, or adult in the vinegar to break the pest lifecycle.
- Insecticidal soap: If you want to treat both spotted lanternflies and secondary pests at the same time, you can use insecticidal soap on any fruit tree trunk or fruit-bearing plant (like grape vines). You may want to apply treatment in the late summer or early fall to kill these insect pests before they lay eggs.
Systemic insecticides are one of the more effective ways to get rid of SLF adults and nymphs. However, they can also lead to a number of systemic problems, including insecticides water contamination and bee health decline. If you’re looking to defend your plants without introducing more harm to your environment, you can pivot to biological controls by encouraging habitat for natural predators.
Here’s how you can weaponize natural enemies of the SLF without causing more damage to your yard.
Natural Enemies Compared
While the spotted lanternfly does not have many enemies in the US, there are a few formidable predators that would be happy to gobble them up as a snack. These pests include:
- Wheel bugs: These nonaggressive pests have a penchant for laying eggs next to spotted lanternfly egg masses, which hatch earlier than the moths do so they can await a quick meal.
- Spiders: Spider webs catch both nymphs and adults, preventing them from spreading out and infesting more plants or fruit trees.
- Birds: Songbirds like cardinals and other smaller species feed on spotted lanternfly adults. Just keep in mind this won’t stop mature pests from laying eggs before their untimely end.
Other insects, including ants, wasps, and praying mantis, are great options for long-term control. If you happen to own chickens or even guinea hens, feel free to let them free range in potentially infested areas.
Cultural controls for SLF rely on changing your management practices to stop pests in their tracks.
Luckily, this doesn’t need to be hard to do. With the right systems in place, you may be able to create a passive management system with traps, sticky tape, and other effective methods.
Here are some ways to manage SLF without introducing chemicals or relying solely on native pollinators.
Stomp or squash spotted lanternflies
This is perhaps the simplest and most straightforward lanternfly control mechanism on this list. If you see an adult or early nymph spotted lanternfly in your yard, simply use your foot or a fly swatter to crush them against the ground.
Keep in mind spotted lanternflies are extremely tricky to catch. Not only can nymphs jump several inches at a time, but adults can take flight just out of reach and drift to a higher part of a tree.
You may want to use:
- Electric fly swatters or lamps
- The back of a rolled-up newspaper
- A large plastic or paper plate
Be sure to take a picture of the spotted lanternflies you kill and send them to your local extension office.
Trap spotted lanternflies
Don’t have the time to crush spotted lanternflies on your own? You can always opt for trapping instead. If you don’t want to buy spotted lanternfly specific traps, you can always opt for tape or sticky paper.
First, identify any infested trees where eggs, nymphs, or adults may be hiding out. Next, wrap duct tape or sticky paper along the bottom of the tree to stop the invasive pest from depositing egg masses. You may want to water the bottom of the tree to disturb lanternflies and push them towards the tacky strips.
Keep an eye your sticky paper as it fills up with bugs. Then, remove the paper with a knife or sharp tool. This allows you to continuously treat trees without harming the trunk or risking environmental damage.
Just remember invasive host trees like the Tree of Heaven should be removed completely rather than treated or controlled.
And speaking of alianthus. . .
Get rid of host trees
Spotted lanternflies feed on more than 70 host plants, including ornamental trees like birches and maples. However, they do have a soft spot for one unwanted invasive species: the Tree of Heaven, or A. altissima.
It’s relatively simple to spot a Tree of Heaven on your property. Just look for:
- A fast growing tree with smooth, grey bark.
- A tree with odd or even compound leaves in a pinnate order.
- A tree with small, white flowers and red ‘helicopter’ (or winged) seeds.
- A foul-smelling ‘weedy’ tree that seems to push its way into any environment.
If you encounter an ailanthus host tree anywhere on your property, you can bet on dozens of spotted lanternflies flocking to the area to lay eggs. Your best bet is cutting the tree down and burning it to prevent the moths from thriving in your area. Alternatively, you can hire a tree service to cut and dispose of the tree on your behalf.
Plant defensive milkweed
Milkweed is a beautiful plant with many benefits for native pollinators. However, it may also be a passive destroyer of spotted lanternflies — and they don’t even know it’s dangerous!
Some citizen scientists have found that spotted lanternfly nymphs seem flock to milkweed in droves. Since they don’t realize the plant is poisonous, they may consume the sap and die on the spot. They may also become slower and easier to catch, which makes biological control easier on you.
Again, keep in mind this is observational data — the jury’s still out on whether or not milkweed really kills SLF. However, it certainly couldn’t hurt to plant some pollinator-friendly plants. Your yard (and local honey bees) may thank you for it.
Spotted Lanternfly FAQs
Still have some questions about how to get rid of spotted lanternflies? We’ve collected a group of frequently asked questions to help you make more informed decisions.
What is the best killer for spotted lanternflies?
The best killer for spotted lanternflies is Golden Pest Spray Oil, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Applying this solution is relatively simple. First, mix equal parts treatment and water to apply a 50% ratio to existing egg masses. Then, you continue applying daily with a hand sprayer or watering can to create a barrier against pests. You may leave the SLF eggs alone after treatment, or remove and incinerate them for an extra layer of protection.
Don’t want to use a non-natural treatment method? You can also use vinegar and other homemade solutions like Dawn dish soap to treat spotted lanternflies. Just keep in mind these may not work as quickly as other products (like soil drenches or rubbing alcohol). They may also fail to treat egg masses completely, which allows the pests to multiply quickly.
What attracts spotted lanternflies?
Spotted lanternfly nymphs are attracted to anything they can use as food, including fruit trees, basil bushes, and vegetable plants like hops. Adults have preferred host plants like Ailanthus altissima, or the Tree of Heaven. It’s best to identify and remove these trees to prevent breeding populations from moving closer to your yard.
Keep in mind the spotted lanternfly also attracts additional problems, including insect pests like bees, wasps, and yellow jackets. The prevalence of sticky honeydew can lead to the growth of sooty mold (a fungi), which damages plants and makes your outdoor furniture less attractive. It’s a good idea to begin killing SLF as soon as possible to protect many native insects and trees from damage.
How do you kill spotted lanternflies in 2023?
There are three different ways to kill spotted lanternflies: chemical controls, biological controls, and cultural controls.
Chemical controls refer to different mixtures or insecticides you can use to get rid of pests. These may include soil drench applications, trunk sprays, and neonicotinoid insecticides. Just keep in mind that some of these solutions (particularly neonicotinoid insecticides) can harm natural pollinators like bees, wasps, and yellow jackets.
Biological controls refer to encouraging predation from animals or insects that can control the spread of native pests. There are some natural predators for SLF adults, including songbirds, wheel bugs, and praying mantis.
Cultural controls refer to management practices you can use to prevent spotted lanternflies from feeding and breeding in your yard. Removing host trees like the Tree of Heaven is an excellent place to begin. You can also control the spread of host plants around your yard to prevent population booms for at least one year. You may want to think twice before planting attractants, including ornamentals like basil, bee balm, and salvia.
Does Dawn dish soap kill spotted lanternflies?
Yes. You can use Dawn dish soap to kill spotted lanternflies at any stage of development. A 50% mix of soap and water can work wonders in a spray bottle against adults, nymphs, and eggs. It can also protect surface water and beneficial insects, since Dawn dish soap does not contain contact insecticides.
Just keep in mind that it can be difficult to kill spotted lanternfly egg masses without consulting a professional. There’s a good chance you can connect with an extension office in your area to speak with an expert about spotted lanternfly removal. Best of all, this service is free — and you can rest easy knowing you’re working on a solution for the adult SLF in your area.