The spotted lanternfly made its first confirmed appearance in the state in 2018, but didn’t hit the Jersey Shore heavily until this summer, according to officials.
And now they’re here. Oh, they’re definitely here.
“It’s just kind of creepy to have them all over with no one really doing anything about it,” said Cynthia Rice, a resident of Asbury Park. “There doesn’t seem to be any type of remedy.”
Jeff Wolfe, spokesperson for the state Department of Agriculture, said that the invasive species gets around by hitchhiking. They’ll use almost any kind of transportation to travel, including cars, semi trucks and trains.
“They latch on and they can go for several miles,” Wolfe said.
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Hitching a ride
The pests are technically plant hoppers, according to Wolfe, so they don’t usually fly more than 10 yards at a time. They’re not migrating to look for new food sources or because of changes in weather.
“There’s no real system,” Wolfe said. “They just hop on… and when the vehicle stops, they hop off.”
Spotted Lanternflies prefer the Tree of Heaven — a tree native to China, like the bugs themselves — as their first choice of food. The tree is also an invasive species, but has been in the state for decades now, Wolfe said.
The Department of Agriculture has received questions about whether the lanternfly infestation could be fixed by getting rid of the Tree of Heaven, but Wolfe said that’s just not realistic.
“It’s widespread,” he said. “If you drive down any of the highways… it’s all over.”
The insects also will feed on about 70 different types of other trees and vegetation if they can’t land on their tree of choice.
He said the state offers advice on dealing with lanternflies and other invasive pests at www.badbug.nj.gov.
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Like ‘The Birds’
Asbury Towers has become a hub for spotted lanternflies this week.
The senior apartment complex on Ocean Avenue is located next to Deal Lake and right in front of the beach, where the Sea.Hear.Now music, art and surfing festival will be held this weekend, Sept. 17 and 18.
Rice, who lives in Asbury Tower, said residents would usually be seen filling the patio, watching the concert venue go up or just enjoying the nice weather. Now, nobody is out because they don’t want to encounter the creepy crawlies.
Rice has been spraying the lanternflies outside her window with vinegar. She said the bugs — some dead, some flying around — are in the hallways of the building, too.
This is the time of year when the spotted lanternflies start to lay egg masses, according to Wolfe, with approximately 50 eggs in each mass. While the adults won’t survive past the first winter freeze, the eggs will.
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The masses can be found on almost any kind of surface, but especially places you wouldn’t normally look, like under a stairwell or underneath a park bench. When they do hatch, it’ll be in late April or early May, depending on the temperature.
Eileen Lavalle, another member of the Asbury Towers community, said she killed at least 40 lanternflies Thursday alone, comparing the situation to the 1960s horror movie “The Birds.”
“There’s not much to do about it, except go around stepping on a hundred if you want to walk,” Lavalle said.
Danica McGuiness, a spokesperson for the Asbury Tower, said they’re aware the insects have become more common in the area.
“Currently we don’t have any specific plans to eradicate them,” McGuiness said. “The residents have made us aware of their concerns, and we will diligently keep an eye on the situation and respond appropriately.”
While the lanternflies won’t go away completely, Wolfe said that if people are able to scrape away the egg masses when they see them, we could prevent this level of infestation next season.
“Any kind of credit card-type object will do the job,” he said.
Jenna Calderón covers breaking news and cold cases in Monmouth and Ocean counties. Before coming to the Press, she covered The Queen City for Cincinnati Magazine in Ohio. Contact her at 330-590-3903; firstname.lastname@example.org