Scientists are hatching spotted lanternflies on purpose — here's why

Spotted lanternfly
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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Scientists studying the spotted lanternfly are reporting a major breakthrough in their effort to stop the spread of the destructive pest.

Tracy Leskey, a federal entomologist and director of a USDA research station in Kearneysville, West Virginia, says her group has managed to do something no others have done: cultivate a colony of lanternflies in a lab.

“What we were able to do was to bring in wild egg masses from the field, hatch those egg masses, grow them, and allow them to mature to the adult stage — where they mated, laid more eggs and, in fact, we are on to another generation in the laboratory,” she said.

Heather Leach, a spotted lanternfly specialist at Penn State, says the colony is the first to survive in a lab anywhere.

“For us, it’s actually been a really big challenge in keeping spotted lanternfly alive,” she said. “And so, this has been a big development for us in helping to get our research to the point where it needs to be to really evaluate effective control.”

Both researchers say the colony gives scientists an opportunity to test natural predators that can be used to effectively kill the bugs.

Lesky says they’re looking at a type of small wasp, which can kill the nymphs and adults. And they continue to examine the role of a natural fungus that was successful in killing the spotted lanternfly near Antietam Lake in a suburban area of Berks County.

“We need to be able to test that in a lab before we bring it out in the environment and make sure it’s safe,” Leach said.

In the meantime, she says, get your stomping boots on, because conditions are ripe for a fairly large infestation of spotted lanternfly this summer.