How to Control Mottled Lanterns Without Harming Birds

Spotted Lanternfly

In the “Since You Asked” section of each issue of BirdWatching, editor Julie Craves answers readers’ questions about birds and their behavior. Here’s a question from our March/April 2019 issue.

Q: Introduced Dappled Lanterns are infesting our region. A recommended control method is the use of tree tape and traps. I’ve read horrific reports of birds being caught in it. Do you have any suggestions? — Dana Anderson, Reading, Pennsylvania

A: The spotted lantern is a large, colorful leafhopper native to Asia. It was discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014 and is now found in at least six states. It is likely to spread widely across the continent. Like other leafhoppers, it feeds with its piercing mouthparts on plant juices. Because they are so prolific, large groups can damage many plants, including fruit trees, roses, maples, and especially grapes.

Eggs are laid in the fall on just about any smooth surface and often on the lower part of tree trunks. When available, the insects prefer to lay eggs and feed on the non-native Sky Tree (Ailanthus altissima). The eggs hatch the following spring and the flightless nymphs climb the tree, making sticky traps an effective way to kill them at this stage of their lives. These tapes and glues are non-discriminatory, however, and any bird or small mammal that touches them is likely to become clogged or tangled.

To use these traps safely and effectively, use brown ribbons or bands (studies have shown to be more effective than blue or yellow) less than two inches wide. Peppermint and spearmint oil have been reported to help attract adults to traps, but are not necessary. Create a cage of hardware fabric for each trap to prevent birds from coming into contact with the glue (instructions).

A product called BugBarrier Tree Bands also appears to provide protection for wildlife by using a sticky fibrous material and covering it with a barrier film. Whatever type of sticky trap you use, always check the traps as often as possible, rather than a few times a month as is often recommended. If you find a bird or animal stuck in a trap, do not try to release it yourself, but call a local wildlife rehabilitator.

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I don’t recommend insecticides, which can also harm beneficial insects as well as birds and pollinators. They are often impractical against lanterns, and the pests have been found to quickly repopulate treated vineyards. Another option is to vacuum the lanterns in a Shop-Vac filled with soapy water.

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