How to Kill Lanternflies & Why You Should

These invasive flies can cause great harm to trees and other flora, and you have a big role to play in controlling them.

Published August 2, 2023
Lanternfly on maple tree

As if there isn't already enough going on in the world, lanternflies are back with a vengeance. If you live in the Northeast, you're well aware of the constant battle being waged against this invasive species. But, there's no telling if or when they'll spread further, so it's important to know how to spot and kill lanternflies.

What Are Lanternflies and Why Are They a Problem?

Lanternflies, and spotted lanternflies in particular, are native Chinese insects that spread easily and devastate fruit and ornamental tree populations. They've been documented in the United States as early as 2014 and are currently found in 14 northeastern and southeastern states.

How to Spot a Spotted Lanternfly

There are four stages in the spotted lanternfly lifecycle:

Spotted Lanternfly Nymph
  • Egg mass: Lanternfly eggs are laid in large collections, and they'll look like a white (fresh) or tan (old) raised substance.
  • Early stage nymph: These minute bugs have six legs, a pointed head, and a black with white spots body.
  • Late stage nymph: As they near maturity, lanternfly nymphs grow ¼" in size and have a striking red body with black underpainting and white spots.
  • Adult: Adult lanternflies are the ones you're most likely to notice, and they're about an inch in total. The biggest tell for adult spotted lanternflies are their black-spotted translucent wings that cover their body. When their wings are extended, you'll see additional red wings with black spots, and black and white wings.

When you're adventuring outside, we don't expect you'll be able to remember exactly what they look like from a glance. So, the USDA has a handy wallet printout that shows you what to look for.

Do I Really Have to Kill Them?

The United States Department of Agriculture currently lists the spotted lanternfly as an invasive species and recommends that you report any lanternflies you see to your local hotlines. But the only way to remove an invasive species is to kill it, and you're the first line of defense.

We'd never recommend killing another creature unless it was absolutely necessary, and the American government believes the threat they pose to our native flora is very high.

How to Kill Spotted Lanternflies

Lanternflies, like many bugs, aren't that hard to kill. Not only are humans pretty big creatures with a seriously strong swing, but lanternflies also don't have any defense mechanisms that can harm us. They can't bite like spiders or blind like cobras. But they're relatively fast and have an aerial advantage.

If you come across a lanternfly, there are a few mixtures you can whip up to kill them.

Spray Them With Vinegar

Vinegar really does it all. Just put a spray head into a bottle of vinegar and start spraying. It should kill them on contact. However, be careful about spraying close to plants because it'll burn them. If you accidentally get vinegar on your plants, immediately wash the area with water.

Spray Them With Dish Soap and Water

Just like vinegar, dish soap mixed with water will suffocate lanternflies on contact. Mix a few teaspoons of dish soap into two cups of water and get to spraying.

Use Insecticidal Soap

A store-bought alternative is insecticidal soap. Spray your shrubs, plants, and trees down with the mixture after you find evidence that lanternflies are munching.

A Good-Old Fashioned Squish Will Do

Although it gives us the ick to think about crushing lanternflies under our hiking boots, it is an option when you see one in the wild and don't have anything on hand.

How to Make a Lanternfly Trap

We don't blame you if you can't push yourself to kill spotted lanternflies. Thankfully, there are a couple of containment options.

Tree Shield and Tulle

One TikToker used a tree shield - a sticky insect barrier that goes on like a roll of tape (you can buy a roll on Amazon for $32.99) - and some tulle to create their own lanterfly tree traps.

@livanysquisher #fyp #spottedlanternfly #lanternfly #trap #gluetrap #stopthespread #invasivespecies #fypシ Spring - Nature Music: Nature Sounds

Simply wrap the tree shield around the tree once or twice and cover the area with the cut tulle. Make sure to leave enough space around the tree shield so that it doesn't stick to the tulle. Then, using flagging tape or staples, secure the tulle in place.

Circle Traps

Circle traps don't have the same risks to beneficial wildlife that sticky traps do, and they're just as effective at removing spotted lanternflies. However, these take more time and materials to build, so keep that in mind.

The at-home standard guide to building these traps you should follow is found at PennState Extension. They go into great detail about what materials you'll need and the steps to build one, and they have useful pictures you can reference to make sure you're following every step correctly.

How to Report Sightings in Your State

Currently, the USDA only provides information for the 14 recognized states where lanternflies are known to be. In a turn of bureaucratic events no one's surprised about, every state does reporting differently. Look to this handy guide to see how you should report sightings in your state.

State Reporting System
Connecticut Send photos or dead specimens to the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station
Delaware Report sightings to Delaware's Department of Agriculture
Indiana Report sightings to Indiana's Department of Natural Resources
Maryland Report sightings to Maryland's Department of Agriculture
Massachusetts Report sightings to Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources
Michigan Report sightings with photos to Michigan's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development
New Jersey Report sightings to New Jersey's Department of Agriculture
New York Report sightings to New York's Department of Agriculture and Markets
North Carolina Report sightings to North Carolina's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Ohio Report sightings to Ohio's Department of Agriculture
Pennsylvania Report sightings to Pennsylvania's Department of Agriculture
Rhode Island Report sightings with pictures to Rhode Island's Department of Environmental Management
Virginia Report sightings to Virginia's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
West Virginia Report sightings with specimens or photos to West Virginia's Department of Agriculture

Do Your Part to Protect the Trees

We're channeling our inner Lorax and speaking for the trees. They, and other American flora, need your help. Keep your eyes peeled for the spotted lanternfly and make sure to stop the spread by either trapping or killing them.

How to Kill Lanternflies & Why You Should