Spotted lanternflies invade Duquesne

Hannah Kern | staff photographer | Spotted lanternflies have invaded campus, even landing on students' shoulders and made their way into buildings.

Rebecca Donnelly | Staff Writer

Lauren Palfey, a junior speech pathology major at Duquesne University, was on her way to her Monday anatomy class when something hit her on the shoulder.

She looked down to retrieve whatever has interrupted her morning walk to class. She saw an insect, stuck to her shirt with black, gray and red wings covered in spots. A spotted lanternfly.

This wasn’t her first time coming in contact with one, as she had started noticing them around Duquesne’s campus last year.

“The first time I saw a lantern fly was on Academic Walk. At that point, I had no idea what they were. I had no idea the problem that they would become,” Palfey said.

After becoming a Southside, Pittsburgh resident this past summer, Palfey said she has seen first hand how these bugs have affected the city.

“I believe if the invasion becomes worse, people won’t want to come here. You can’t go outside without one landing on you,” Palfey said.

As the city faces the attack of lanternflies, questions arise about how they got here.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the spotted lanternfly is native to China.

In 2014, the spotted lanternfly was detected for the 1st time in the U.S. in Berks County, Pa. These insects can spread large distances by infested materials or items containing egg masses.

The first lanternfly in the U.S. is believed to have traveled by a shipment of landscape stone from South Korea, where the species is also invasive, according to the New York State Integrated Pest Management.

Associate professor of Biological Sciences, Brady Porter, explained that when these bugs are in their natural environment they are rarely a problem. This is because their population is maintained by native predators.

Once removed from their native land and introduced to a new area, they no longer have predators and their population begins to increase rapidly.

In order to stop the spread, Porter says everyone should be careful of lantern flies or their eggs attaching to any traveling objects such as cars, train cars, buses and packages.

“They lay lots of eggs on almost everything. If people cannot recognize these eggs they get transported to other places”

Ava Bailey, president of Duquesne Ecology Club, explains that if nothing is done to try to contain these insects, they will continue to cause harm to plant life with their secretions.

Ecology Club is an organization that focuses on getting students involved with the environment and ecological matters.

In order to bring awareness to the invasion, the ecology club has started a competition where they see who can stomp on and collect the most lanternflies.

“We need to make sure people know they are invasive and the potential harm that they could cause to the ecosystem,” Bailey said. “We need to encourage Duquesne students to stomp on them when they see them. Additionally, when winter comes around, we need to make sure people know how to recognize and remove the egg masses they will lay on trees.”

A 2019 study, by Agriculturist Tewodros T. Wakie, showed the dangers of the lanternflies potentially spreading to the west coast, which could have an enormous effect on the agricultural industry and food production.

Porter agrees that the spread of lanternflies to the west coast would be problematic.

“Grapes are one of the crops lanternflies impact. California is one of our grape growing regions. If lanternflies do come to the west coast, the grape and wine industries would be affected,” Porter said.

Lanternflies are dangerous to crops when they feed on sap from plants, then excrete the excess sugars which creates large deposits under where they are feeding. This results in mold and can impact the plant’s lifespan.

While Duquesne’s campus has been swarmed by these insects, Porter said he has noticed that the crops planted by Canevin Hall and the trees on campus have not yet been affected.

Despite there being no immediate fix, Porter said that there is still hope for the future, although the process might take decades.

“The invasion will stop when there is the combined effort between humans and the acclimation of predators to start eating these insects,” Porter said.