Entomologists in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences have discovered that utility poles can help predict the behavior of spotted lanternflies and possibly trap them. Spotted lanternflies are invasive insects that are visually drawn toward and seemingly captivated by vertical objects.
“The spotted lanternfly feeds on more than 70 plant species, making it a great concern to U.S. tree-fruit and grape growers, as well as to the forest products industry,” said Tom Baker, distinguished professor of entomology and chemical ecology.
Research from the laboratory of Tom Baker, recently published in the Journal of Insect Behavior, is laying the foundation for future strategies to monitor and possibly trap the invasive insect from Asia, which first was found in North America in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 2014. The planthopper now is confirmed in 34 Pennsylvania counties and several surrounding states.
These findings show that telephone poles attract flight-dispersing spotted lanternflies, which are visually drawn to turn and land on the poles when they are less than about 10 feet away. They remain on the pole for many minutes, even hours, while crawling up toward the top to try to take flight again.
However, a large proportion of those launching themselves from the pole are drawn back to the pole, which serves as a sort of “visual magnet” from which the insects cannot escape for a while. The pole thus attracts and retains a large proportion of the lanternflies that are drawn to it.
“Understanding the how and why of its flight capabilities and its attraction to stimuli from the environment can help us better exploit these behaviors to assess, and possibly thwart, future threats from this pest.”
This latest study is an offshoot of experiments on the insect’s flight behaviors and dispersal patterns led by Baker and his colleagues Andrew Myrick, assistant research professor of entomology, and Michael Wolfin, postdoctoral research associate.
Their flight-dispersal research efforts began during late summer and early fall in September and October of 2017 and 2018 at a fruit farm near Oley and at Dorney Park in Allentown. Both locations had been severely affected by spotted lanternfly infestations.
Baker’s team had found that, in the lanternflies’ apparent quest to find new sources of food to complete their development and then mate, they will fly onto and crawl to the top of the nearest vertical surfaces — including inanimate objects such as buildings and telephone poles and host and nonhost plants — and launch themselves into the wind. Because lanternflies cannot generate much lift, only thrust, their normal flight paths conform to gradually descending, straight-line trajectories in which they are able to traverse usually only 30 to 150 feet over the ground before landing.
For the latest information about the spotted lanternfly, visit the Penn State Extension website at https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly or call 888-4BAD-FLY (888-422-3359). Extension also offers a monthly spotted lanternfly newsletter. To subscribe, visit https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly.
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