By Myara Gomez
All across the College, numerous Spotted Lanternflies have taken over the campus. The Spotted Lanternfly (SLF) is an invasive insect native to China and surrounding countries, recently becoming an issue in the state due to their environmental harm. The first U.S. SLF sighting was in Berks County, Pennsylvania in 2014, according to NJ.gov. Since then, states such as New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and several others have also fallen victim to these insects.
According to NJ.gov, the SLF feeds on the sap of multiple beneficial plants and trees, while also releasing a sugary substance known as honey dew. This substance invites the presence of mold, which can spread throughout trees and lead to the prolonged decaying of multiple wildlife species in the area.
Senior biology major Megan Gasnick — the vice president of the Environmental Club — said the amount of lanternflies on campus is alarming and has the potential to damage the local environment.
“Mercer County is one of the areas that is under quarantine for these insects. This means that they are a detrimental threat to the wildlife in this area,” Gasnick said.
These insects could potentially ruin all of the trees and plants on campus if this does not get under control. The reason why so many SLFs have completely taken over the campus is because of the types of trees and plants there are at the College.
“Spotted Lanternflies feed on several different plant species, including birch trees, willows, maple trees, black walnuts and grapevines. These are species that can be found on campus and is likely what has attracted so many lanternflies. If they continue to multiply, they will continue to kill these plant species resulting in more dead trees on campus,” Gasnick said.
Dr. Janet Morrison, professor of biology at the College, disagrees with Gasnick about SLFs being the cause of rotted trees on campus. Morrison says, "This insect is not known to be an important source of mortality to trees; the idea that it could weaken trees and eventually contribute to their death is often stated but at this point is speculative. The main problem with trees is that the SLF can reduce yields of fruit crops ... Even if it did kill trees, it has not been here long enough to have the result be rotting trees on campus, since wood takes years to rot after a tree has died."
Junior special education and English major Celine Rafferty, the president of the Environmental Club, had a different outlook when it came to how the College should handle the issue with SLFs. She said simply stomping them will not solve the problem on campus.
“As much as I appreciate the effort and enthusiasm from the TCNJ community, I think the issue of infestation is best left to professionals. However, if you notice SLF repeatedly in the same area, take note of it, as it could be a nest. Again, do nothing to it, as this is for the professionals,” Rafferty said.
According to tcnj.edu, the SLF is not a good insect and will only continue to kill trees if it is not killed first. The College urges its students to contact email@example.com if three or more SLFs are spotted in any given area.
The College has made it clear to students and faculty to stomp on a SLF if they see one. Morrison suggested some methods that the College can use in dealing with the invasive species.
“I have no idea what the college is doing about SLF except for a few traps and asking for reports of occurrences. I hope they are surveying our property for the tree-of-heaven, which is the SLF's preferred host plant. A good strategy is to remove that species except for one stand of it to use as an attractant to the pest, to sort of trap it, and then to monitor that tree closely and kill all SLF on it,” Morrison said.
Morrison also argued against the use of insecticides to get rid of the SLFs, explaining how “the spotted lanternfly, although called a fly is actually a species of insects called the leafhoppers, so if an insecticide was used that was specific to leafhoppers, for example, it likely also would kill other native leafhoppers. If a more generally effective chemical was used, it would likely kill an even wider range of native insects.”
SLFs can be identified in more than one form because there are multiple stages in their development. According to NJ.gov’s reporting tool, young SLFs in the “early nymph” stage are black with white spots and wingless. Then, “late nymph” SLFs become black and red with white spots, still without wings. Adult SLF wings are gray with black spots, and there is a second set of smaller wings which are red with black spots. Premature SLFs are known for jumping because of their lack of wings.
If there is a SLF on campus or a nest forming on a tree, students are advised to step on it or report it. For more information, contact The College of New Jersey Environmental Club at firstname.lastname@example.org.