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Don’t Let Their Beauty Fool You — These Bugs Mean Business!

Say hello to the Spotted Lanternfly, a plant-hopping insect causing major concerns for farmers, gardeners and homeowners in multiple states, including Maryland. Don’t be fooled by its vibrant wings and patterns — this little bug is a destructive force that can ruin trees and harm crops.

“It’s big news when the first shows up,” says Phin Deford, vice president at Boordy Vineyards to Baltimore Magazine. “We saw one or two last summer, then in greater numbers by the fall. And we just said, our time has come.” 

But don’t worry, the Maryland Department of Agriculture has been actively managing this invasive pest since it arrived in the state. Jessica Boyles, an environmental specialist for the Spotted Lanternfly Program, explains, “Our mission is to slow the spread of the Spotted Lanternfly. We handle existing populations, identify new ones, assist affected agricultural communities, and educate the public about the importance of controlling this invasive species.”

The Spotted Lanternfly is unique because it’s a planthopper. These insects live up to their name by jumping from plant to plant and feasting on their sap. Their distinctive wings are a mix of gray, black and red, adorned with white spots. In their juvenile stage, they’re black with white spots and smaller in size. Many mistake the Spotted Lanternfly for butterflies or moths, but its larger head, two antennae and longer hindwings set it apart.

Originally from Asia, it’s thought that the Spotted Lanternfly accidentally made its way to the United States in 2014 in a stone shipment from Korea to Pennsylvania. Since then, it has spread rapidly, becoming a major concern for agriculture and the environment. The insect lacks natural predators in the U.S. and reproduces quickly, with each egg mass containing 30 to 60 eggs.

While some counties in Maryland remain unaffected, there are varying degrees of Spotted Lanternfly populations in the affected areas. The insect feeds on various plants, including fruit trees, grapevines, hardwoods and ornamental plants. Injecting their mouthparts into the plant’s bark, they extract sap, weakening the plant, depleting nutrients, and causing damage like oozing and sooty mold. In severe cases, the plant may even die.

The impact is especially noticeable in vineyards, where grapes suffer significant damage. “Brief heavy feeding disrupts sap flow and the vines’ ability to photosynthesize,” explains Jessica. “It reduces carbohydrate and nitrogen storage in the roots which is crucial for overwintering and future growth. Sugar accumulation and nutrient presence in the leaves are also affected. Grapes are a sensitive crop, and this stress is particularly pronounced. The Spotted Lanternfly also excretes Honeydew, which attracts stinging insects and can damage fruit, reducing crop yield.”

Luckily, there are steps you can take to control the Spotted Lanternfly population. “I would always suggest finding any Tree-of-heaven on your property first. The first nymphal stage is incredibly small and can be hard to see. But check new growth in the spring, that is where they would be,” Jessica says. If an egg mass is found, Jessica recommends crushing any that you find to help reduce the population. Additionally, pruning and destroying host plants, such as Ailanthus trees and Tree-of-heaven, can keep these pests at bay.

“We try to squish them if we can,” says Phin, whose crew monitors the fields daily, to Baltimore Magazine. “I’m worried about the vines, of course, but also about the customers. We have a nice hillside with picnic tables where they like to enjoy their wine in the summertime. I can only imagine what that experience might be like if each tree has 10,000 bugs on it. And I’m not sure what we’re going to do about that, if and when the time comes.”

Marylanders also can help eradicate the Spotted Lanternfly population by reporting sightings. If you see a Spotted Lanternfly, please report your findings to MDA’s online reporting tool on its website or go directly to the form. If you have any questions, email MDA at

Hungry for more? Read about bugs that are beneficial. See this checklist for homeowners living in areas with Spotted Lanternflies. Learn more in this video.

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