Spotted Lanternfly Identification and Life Cycle


Source: Photos: Egg Laying, Hatch and 1st Instar, 2nd Instar, Adults: Emelie Swackhamer, Penn State University,; Eggs: Lawrence Barringer, PA Dept. of Agriculture,; 3rd Instar: Dalton Ludwick, USDA-ARS/Virginia Tech; 4th Instar: Richard Gardner, 

Its name, Spotted Lanternfly, SLF, implies it is a fly, but it is really a planthopper and a very colorful one at that, flashing a dazzling pattern of black, yellow and red as an adult. This invasive little beauty, is a beast of a problem: spreading from Pennsylvania, where it appeared on 2014, into nearby states, threatening crops such as almonds, apples, blueberries, cherries, peaches, grapes, and hops, as well as hardwoods such as oak, walnut, and poplar. 

The SLF is not a problem in its native territories because of natural predators and other natural controls, however here in the US predation of the SLF is occurring in the wild, but not at levels high enough for any type of significant control. Typical of planthoppers, it chews into stems and branches of plants to suck out sap, causing wilting, leaf curling, and dieback. To make matters worse, just like aphids, it excretes sugary honeydew that feeds the growth of black sooty mold, which discolors and weakens plants.

Before any type of control measures can be imposed, it is necessary to identify the different life stages and know what to do and when to do it. 


Life Cycle

  1. May-June:  The first instar stage of the SLF starts in the Spring. From late April to early May, eggs hatch into nymphs (instars) which begin to feed on leaves and branches of host trees. At this early instar the SLF is wingless, ¼” long and black with white spots. At this stage is it often mistaken for a tick.

  2. June-July:  The second and third instar stage of the SLF occurs at this time. The insect grows in size but is similar to the first stage in color, they remain black with white spots. During this stage the SLF feeds on a variety of trees. The SLF moves up and down the tree when they feed. Many people tend to catch the SLF using tape during this time but this is not likely to work in the following stage.
  3. July-December:  The fourth instar stage appears in July. The SLF turns from black to red with white spots and can be up to ¾”. In mid-summer, the SLF molts into the adult stage, where it develops wings and approximately 1 inch in length. In the beginning they are not strong at flying and typically jump to each location to feed on plants. They later develop underwings which are bright red, you will most likely see this when they are flying or startled.

  4.  October-June: In the late summer/early fall, adults mate, and females lay brown seed-like eggs. The females will lay their eggs on trees, stones, or objects (cars, farm equipment, outdoor furniture). The females lay the eggs in a row and cover them with a white waxy secretion. The Spotted Lanternflies lay 2 egg masses with each egg mass harvesting 30-50 eggs. As they hatch the appearance of the white substance begins to dry up and crack. Eggs overwinter, and hatch in the spring. Thus, begins the lifecycle of the Spotted Lanternfly.

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