Reports from parts of NJ suggest there are fewer spotted lanternflies out and about

Some areas of the state are reporting high populations

Experts don't expect to completely eradicate the pest, just control it

A relatively new nuisance for the Garden State appears to be less visible in 2023, but it'd be too soon to declare victory over the spotted lanternfly.

In fact, the Asia-native insect is here to stay. Experts' ultimate goal is to just get the invasive species down to levels that aren't bothersome to people or detrimental to crops and trees.

New Jersey doesn't officially track the presence of the spotted lanternfly on a yearly basis, but, due to reports from experts and residents, officials believe that areas of the state that had huge populations in the past are seeing very low numbers in 2023.

"They're still there, but you're just not seeing as many of them," said Saul Vaiciunas, plant pathologist with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.

Can we declare victory over the spotted lanternfly?

Vaiciunas said the fluctuation may have to do with the supply of the bug's favorite food source: the tree of heaven. If it's depleted, the winged planthoppers may be searching for the tree elsewhere.

"It's good news if you're not seeing too many (spotted lanternflies). But don't feel too comfortable; they could come back," Vaiciunas said.

Vaiciunas said the Department is hearing reports of high populations in Bergen County, as well as eastern Monmouth and Ocean counties.

Invasion of the Lanternflies
AP Photo

The state applies treatment at "priority locations" such as seaports, airports, and train yards, Vaiciunas said.

"As of right now, it's not fully understood why the populations are fluctuating the way they are," Vaiciunas said.

History of the spotted lanternfly in New Jersey

The first U.S. spotted lanternfly sighting was recorded in 2014, in Pennsylvania. New Jersey populations were first detected in 2018, according to the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station at Rutgers.

Because the spotted lanternfly has since established populations in every New Jersey county, the state is no longer asking residents to report sightings. But the public is still urged to crush the adults and nymphs, and scrape egg masses from trees and other surfaces in the winter.

"We're never going to completely eradicate spotted lanternfly," Vaiciunas said. "The light at the end of the tunnel would be biological control."

Can anything eat spotted lanternflies?

Researchers are working to identify a natural predator that can make a significant dent in the spotted lanternfly population stateside. Any known natural predators aren't found in the United States.

Before releasing them into the environment, researchers would want to ensure that the predators wouldn't prefer other insects over the spotted lanternfly, or go after U.S.-native plants and trees.

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