'Step on them and smash them': What to know about invasion of spotted lanternfly in Tri-State

The beautiful insects are hugely destructive to a wide variety of plants and crops.

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Monday, August 8, 2022
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Spotted lanternflies, which are hugely destructive to a wide variety of plants, have been spotted in at least 11 states.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- They're back: Spotted lanternflies are once again wreaking havoc on fruit crops, trees and even lawn furniture in states across the U.S. -- including in the Tri-State area.

The pests -- which are native to Asia and known for their pale, pinkish gray wings, black dots and scarlet undercoat -- were first documented in Pennsylvania in 2014.

Despite their beauty, the insects are hugely destructive to more than 70 varieties of plants, including crops like walnuts, grapes, hops, apples, blueberries and stone fruits.

Experts say when you see one -- have no mercy.

"When you see them, stomp them. There's no other way to put it. They hop, but they don't fly," said Douglas Fisher, the New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture. "It's easy to step on them and smash them, and that's what people are doing."

A call-to-action has been issued throughout New Jersey to exterminate the invasive bug that has swarmed neighborhoods.

Rutgers University says the bugs were first detected in New Jersey in 2018 and have since been found in every county.

People and businesses traveling in and out of Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Mercer, Salem, Somerset, and Warren counties are advised by the NJ Department of Agriculture to inspect vehicles for hitchhiking lanternflies and inspect outdoor items such as packing bins, firewood, paving stones, lawn equipment, etc. for egg masses.

RELATED | NYSIPM Interactive Spotted Lanternfly Map

Meanwhile, the New York State Department of Agriculture is also encouraging New Yorkers to kill the spotted lanternfly.

Spotted lanternflies were first seen on Staten Island in August 2020 and have since been spotted across the five boroughs, Long Island, and the Northern Suburbs. The agriculture department is partnering with other state and federal agencies to control the spread of lanternflies to other areas.

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Spotted lanternflies begin as egg masses attached to trees in the springtime. Experts say you can use a credit card to scrape away those sacks before they hatch.

NYC Parks says the Tree of Heaven is the species' preferred host tree and infested trees will be pruned and removed.

They often hitch a ride on cars, which can lead to their spread in the summer as people move around to places like the beach.

They don't pose a direct threat to humans or pets, but a vigilante-like group in Pennsylvania known as the Spotted Lanternfly Patrol is out to help find and squash them anyway.

"We know it's an invasive insect. It has very few predators in this area. We should get out there and try to eradicate it or bring that population way down so that we don't have some sort of mass fallout event with our habitat," said Ruffian Tittmann with the nonprofit Friends of the Wissahickon.

The Spotted Lanternfly Patrol says the bugs are easy to identify, and a fly swatter can be the great equalizer in this battle.

Officials recommend people report spotted lanternfly sightings to their local government after killing the insect.

Click here to report a sighting in New York and click here to report a sighting in New Jersey.

ABC News contributed to this report.

ALSO READ | WEATHER OR NOT: The race to stop the spotted lanternfly's spread

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