Residents Told to 'Squish and Dispose' of Invasive Insect Species Swarming NYC

There's a new bug invading New York City and the surrounding region. Spotted lanternflies, while not directly harmful to humans, are giant, colorful pests that have the potential to wreak havoc on the area's crops—and officials are advising locals to destroy any that they encounter.

The insects are native to China and Southeast Asia, and they were first seen in the U.S. in Pennsylvania in 2014. Since then, their population has slowly been on the rise, with spotted lanternflies having also been identified in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.

Notably, the species is highly colorful, making them easy to spot. "They have red hind wings with black spots, have a black head, and a yellow abdomen with black bands," said the New York Department of Agriculture. "Their grayish forewings have black spots with a distinctive black brick-like pattern on the tips."

We're sounding the alert on the SPOTTED LANTERNFLY after a recent surge in Manhattan observations on @inaturalist—over 30 in just the last week. This invasive planthopper destroys plants and trees, but does not hurt humans. Kill it by swatting or squashing.

— Manhattan Bird Alert (@BirdCentralPark) August 15, 2021

The pests are equipped with "piercing mouthparts" which allow them to suck sap from a wide range of plant species, leaving the plants weak and vulnerable. "This intense feeding just saps the energy from plants, and that makes it tough for some of them to thrive," explained entomologist Amy Korman to NJ Spotlight News.

The pests pose such a threat, in fact, that New York City officials are recommending that residents step up and assist in the eradication efforts themselves.

"Harming our city's wildlife is prohibited, but in an effort to slow the spread of this troublesome species, we are putting out a one-time call: if you see a spotted lanternfly, please squish and dispose of this invasive pest," said the city's Department of Parks and Recreation.

Central Park
The Spotted Lanternfly, an invasive species with the potential to do harm to plants, trees and crops, has been spotted in and around NYC's parks and green spaces. Pictured, Central Park. Cindy Ord/Getty Images

In neighboring New Jersey, where the number of spotted lanternflies is also increasing, residents have been given similar advice: "If you see a spotted lanternfly, help us Stomp it Out!" said the state's Department of Agriculture on its website.

After killing the bugs, government agencies are telling people to take a picture of the specimen and the location where it was found, then immediately report the sighting—in New York, for example, spotted lanternfly sightings can be reported to the Department of Agriculture's SLF response survey.

Residents are also being advised to get rid of the species' egg masses, explained community horticulture educator Susan Ndiaye to the Times Union. She instructs anyone who encounters an egg mass to "scrape them off" whatever surface they're found on "and destroy them."

What makes the spotted lanternfly particularly unsettling is the fact that it has a wide range of potential hosts—meaning that the pests can thrive drinking the sap of several important plant species, explained the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (NYSIPM). The biggest concern regarding the spotted lanternfly is the threat it poses to agriculture, with "grapes, hops, apples, blueberries, and stone fruits" all being at risk.

Spotted lanternflies can't fly far, but, as planthoppers, they spread via "human activity."

"They lay their eggs on vehicles, firewood, outdoor furniture, stone, etc. which are inadvertently transported to new areas, causing the insect to spread," said the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Newsweek has reached out to the NY Department of Agriculture and the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation for further comment.