Drexel students living on campus in Philadelphia have reported an invasion of the spotted lanternfly near The Summit since the end of August.
The spotted lanternflies, an invasive species first spotted in Berks County in 2014, were specifically found in front of the Chipotle at 34th Street and Lancaster Avenue. They have also been around the entrance, inside the building and crawling the walls of The Summit, a residential building for Drexel students owned by American Campus Communities.
“They were everywhere, it was pretty disgusting,” Ciara Richards, a political science sophomore who has lived in The Summit since September. “I never saw anyone going to Chipotle or other stores in the area where lanternflies [were] collected during that time. I would just totally try to avoid that area.”
Richards said she saw a similar situation around the entrance of The Link, another private residence on Drexel’s campus. Whenever Richards saw them, she and her friends usually screamed or stomped on them.
“You could even find them inside the elevator, past security,” Clayton Fosterweber, a third-year environmental sciences student who has lived in The Summit since 2019, said. “We even had our window opened once and one flew in — on the 19th floor!”
Fosterweber was surprised because, according to many reports, spotted lanternflies cannot fly long distances.
“They are usually looking for tall [surfaces] to climb up, and since The Summit is the tallest building on campus, it makes sense they accumulated there,” Fosterweber said. “I have also seen a bunch in Cira Green and by the Schuylkill River, [and] there are a lot of tall buildings [there] as well.”
A Community Assistant from The Summit, who preferred to remain anonymous for this interview, mentioned that the building’s procedure to attack the spotted lanternflies was to powerwash the area daily in the morning and afternoon. Additionally, The Summit hired an exterminator twice to tackle the issue.
“Honestly, they would come back, almost like right away,” the Community Assistant said. “It was a really tiresome task trying to continue to get rid of them. But right now, I think more than anything, the cold weather was what took them [out] and they are no longer an issue.”
The Triangle reached out to the Chipotle location, but Chipotle Corporate has not responded as of Wednesday evening.
However, the spotted lanternfly is a species that is not only attacking University City, but also invading the whole city of Philadelphia and the rest of the state.
Scientists believe this species first arrived in the United States four or five years ago in Berks County, Pa. They are believed to have come from China through a stone importation, said Jon K. Gelhaus, Drexel professor of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Sciences and Curator of Entomology at the Academy of Natural Sciences. By the time the insect was noticed and deemed uncommon in North America, the population was already large and spreading.
This insect has a long mouth that feeds from the surface of plants. However, when it excretes the excess, it grows a mold that can infect the plants, Gelhaus said.
“Its favorite [plants] are grapes, and that is affecting some of the horticulture of grapes, especially in Pennsylvania, [which is] a big state that cultivates them for juice,” Gelhaus said.
Specialists are trying to eradicate them, but they have not been able to stop the spread.
“They have also come here without any natural enemies,” Gelhaus said. “The population is expanding greatly and it’s not controlling the cycle of life, so we’re seeing how the population is growing hugely – it’s growing exponentially.”
None of the lanternflies survive the winter, which is why numbers have lowered in the past few days – but their eggs are a different story. In the spring, the eggs hatch, releasing small insects. They look quite different in coloration; lanternflies start as black with white spots, then develop red and black colors and, finally, become winged adults. However, all of these stages feed on plants the same way.
“Mid-summer, [from] July to August, are the last moments when it goes from the young stage to the adult, and that’s when we see most lanternflies, until the fall when [the weather becomes] very cold,” Gelhaus explained.
Right now, the spotted lanternflies are mating, laying eggs and dispersing them. The problem with them moving around is that they lay eggs easily and on a daily basis, which improves the chances of them spreading.
Lanternflies can lay their eggs in trees and plants, but they can also leave them on anything that is outside — including cars, trucks and any other methods of transportation. Scientists like Gelhaus warn that this will lead to the spread of spotted lanternflies to other parts of the country.
It is recommended to check vehicles or anything that is left outside during these months to make sure no eggs are found on them. Gelhaus described the eggs as “a cluster that becomes yellow-ish and over time it becomes darker, [which] could get confused with tree bark.”
To be removed, the eggs need to be scratched out of the surface with something strong and flat, like a credit card or a knife. Then, it is advised to pour some rubbing alcohol or very hot water, Gelhaus said.
This is especially important for Drexel students who are moving from campus to their homes and vice versa, Gelhaus added.
Yet, there is still much unknown about spotted lanternflies.
“There are some newer findings of them being attracted to tall buildings, but we don’t understand why they are attracted to [these] structures and such,” Gelhaus said. “Once we find out what makes them aggregate, that will be easier to also exterminate them because we could find them all together.”
Some people have been using a very sticky material to wrap around the tree trunk that sticks and kills spotted lanternflies, but this method has also caught other animals, including birds, Gelhaus said. The solution of putting a chicken net around the trees to keep birds from getting stuck is currently being tested.
Scientists are also looking into bringing the natural enemy of the spotted lanternfly into the environment, but this will cause another set of issues.
“They have to test that [the enemy] will survive in this ecosystem, and they have to [ensure] it does not endanger other species of this area, and this process will take years,” Gelhaus said.
Today, spotted lanternflies are invading Philadelphia and are very prominent in other parts of western Pennsylvania. The infestation has also spread to other states, like New Jersey and Virginia, and it was even recently found in Connecticut. Scientists only expect the population to grow in the upcoming years, so residents hold a big responsibility in helping to stop the spread.