By Lisa Kava
I was sitting outside with a friend at sweetgreen, on Amsterdam at 75th Street, when suddenly, a large insect with a red body and black-and-white spotted wings, landed on the sidewalk next to us.
“Whoa,” said my friend. “Eeek!” screamed a little boy at the next table. The little boy quickly, and with determination, stepped on the insect and squished it. I — an animal lover and vegetarian — applauded him for a job well done.
When did killing a bug become cause for accolades?
The smooshed insect is known as a spotted lanternfly, and is rapidly multiplying in New York City. Spotted lanternflies are invasive plant hoppers and pose a significant threat to our biodiversity and agriculture, the New York City Parks Department, the Central Park Conservancy, The New York Times, and government officials warn.
“Spotted lanternflies are a danger to New York’s crops and wineries ,” a representative from the Parks Department told WSR. “They love grapes, apples and peaches. When they multiply on tree trunks they can entirely cover the tree. We have concerns about the trees in our parks.”
While spotted lanternflies do not pose any danger to people or pets, all interested parties urge New Yorkers to help reduce the spread of these insects by killing them. “If you see a lanternfly, please squish and dispose of this invasive pest,” the Parks Dept website instructs. A spotted lanternfly nest resembles wads of chewing gum and can be found on trees. “If you see a nest, please remove it, put it in a plastic bag and dispose of it,” a representative from CM Brewer’s office advises.
Do these instructions present a moral dilemma for some people? A recent NY Times article talked about those who have a hard time squishing the bugs, who think the insects are “too cute to kill” or might “take the bug’s side.”
But like the little boy at sweetgreen, some feel empowered to follow instructions and take on the problem. “They land on my terrace with a whack, and I know I have work to do,” said a resident of West 77th Street. “I use my husband’s old putter to squish them if they don’t jump away. My husband and I are taking our job seriously.”
Spotted lanternflies were first detected in the United States in 2014 in Pennsylvania. The insects, which can now be found in 11 eastern states, are believed to have come over on a stone shipment from China in 2012. They made their first appearance in NYC on Staten Island in July 2020. According to a spokesperson from CM Brewer’s office, the spotted lanternfly can lay eggs on buildings in addition to trees. “They like to crawl straight up, they love the warmth of concrete and new constructions.” Spotted lanternflies emerge in July and begin to lay eggs in September, reproducing quickly, the spokesperson said.
“I have noticed an uptick in the number of corpses in Riverside Park, especially between 69th and 71st Streets,” a resident who lives near the Park said.
“We are seeing more spotted lanternflies this year,” a spokesperson from the Central Park Conservancy added. “We are supporting the public awareness campaign that if you see one squish it and dispose of it.”
The Parks Dept is not considering any sort of widespread treatment plan at this time, despite the growing population of spotted lanternflies. “A citywide pesticide treatment program would be difficult to achieve given current permitting requirements, the prohibitive cost, and may also harm other wildlife and cause unintended damage to surrounding ecosystems,” a spokesperson for Parks emailed.
CM Brewer says we should not have mercy for the lanternflies or their egg sacs. “Each bug we smash is one less that can reproduce. If we remove an egg sac, we have disposed of potentially 200 insects. We have a responsibility to protect biodiversity. We need to reduce the spread.”