A gamble pays off

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Female Spotted Lanternfly, Lycorma delicatula (Berks co, PA)

It’s 8 months after my last post here and it might seem as though I’d forgotten about this blog. That is not the case – I’ve simply been way too busy to even think about sitting down to write. It certainly hasn’t been for lack of interesting stuff to write about, believe me! Now that I have some free time to devote to the blog, my brain is bursting with ideas. One post at a time, though. This one’s about a team effort, and a gamble that actually worked.

It was time for fall break at Cornell and I had 3 days free (although this being Cornell, that means at least one of those days has to be devoted to doing work). Early september is prime orthoptera season in the northeast, and I was dying to get off campus and spot some different bugs. Having been collecting in Ithaca for over two years, I know the orthopteran fauna pretty well, and I wanted to see new stuff. One problem – no car. I thought all my friends with cars (read: the ones with cars that would have gone on a bug hunt with me) were otherwise engaged. I brought up the matter jokingly during insect biology lab that week. Casey, a new transfer entomology major who I had recently met, told me she had a car and no plans for the weekend. I thought she was kidding, but the next day she asked me if I was still up for it. Of course I was, and together with Annika, another new transfer entom major, we planned to head down to southern Pennsylvania in search of cool new bugs.

As I scoured online databases making a list of potential sites to hit up, it dawned on me that we’d be in range of an animal I have wanted to see since it was first introduced to the US. Lycorma delicatula, the Spotted Lanternfly, is a large and beautiful fulgorid planthopper native to China, India, Japan and Vietnam. It has been introduced in Korea, where it is a serious invasive. Feeding on a very wide variety of trees and shrubs, including many economically important fruit trees, the honeydew waste it produces also grows a fungal disease that can further weaken the trees. In 2014 it was detected in Berks county, PA, and has since spread to 3 other counties. There is a quarantine in place to attempt to limit its spread, but unfortunately it seems like this invasive pest is here to stay. I knew that adults should be present in fall, so I immediately started checking for places to find it. Unfortunately all the databases and websites I could find only listed “Berks county” or various cities within Berks county, with no specific localities. In a moment of inspiration I checked the Cornell insect collection, and discovered several specimens with coordinates. Entering these coordinates into Google Maps, I found that they led me to a roadside in Berks county. Could this be the spot™ I was looking for? It was a bit out of the way with respect to the other places I had picked out (which were all parks and preserves), and it was, admittedly, a gamble. But, my companions were game.

 

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Male Lycorma delicatula with wings spread. 

So it was that that 3.5 hours later I found myself on a random roadside in the middle of nowhere, PA, with two people I’d known for less than a month. It had been raining, so everything outside was soaked. At the end of the road was a building stone company, so we parked there and started poking around in the bushes. I honestly didn’t have much hope. The creature seemed so mythical to me that I couldn’t imagine actually seeing one in the flesh. Yet no more than 15 minutes in, I spotted an inch-long, pink and black speckled bug standing on a leaf. It was unmistakable. The beast was here! The three of us gathered around and marveled at its size, color, and silly-looking face. When I picked it up, the wings spread to reveal bright red, white, and black patterning. What a cool animal!

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The Spot™. Doesn’t look like anything special, right?

Within a few minutes, we’d located another, and another. A few more were perched on wet leaves and branches, and we were ecstatic to have actually found the thing we were looking for. But we had no idea what was coming. As we returned to the car, I went up to one of the company buildings. I spotted a few more in some bushes next to the wall, and suddenly beheld a small birch tree absolutely laden with lanternflies! I never expected to see so many, but then again they are invasive… We went nuts tossing them into kill jars. I saved one pair alive for photos later (don’t worry, they were dispatched quickly afterward). After 20 minutes of this, we figured it’d be best to move on, so we checked ourselves and the car to make sure we didn’t have any hitchhikers, and left Rolling Rock Road behind.

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Lycorma delicatula face portrait. 

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