How to control spotted lanternflies without harming birds

Spotted Lanternfly
A spotted lanternfly. Photo by Amy Lutz/Shutterstock

In the column “Since You Asked” in every issue of BirdWatching, Contributing Editor Julie Craves answers readers’ questions about birds and bird behavior. Here is a question from our March/April 2019 issue. 

Q: Introduced spotted lanternflies are infesting our region. One recommended control method is the use of sticky tapes and traps on trees. I’ve read horrific reports of birds being caught in them. Do you have any suggestions? — Dana Anderson, Reading, Pennsylvania

A: The spotted lanternfly is a large, colorful planthopper native to Asia. It was discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014 and now is in at least six states. It is likely to spread widely across the continent. Like other planthoppers, 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 portion of tree trunks. Where available, the insects prefer to lay eggs and feed on the non-native tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima). The eggs hatch the following spring and the flightless nymphs climb up the tree, making sticky traps an efficient way to kill them at this life stage. These sticky tapes and glues are not discriminatory, though, and any bird or small mammal that touches them is likely to suffer becoming fouled or entangled.

To use these traps safely and effectively, use brown tapes or bands (studies have shown them to be more effective than blue or yellow ones) less than two inches wide. Peppermint and spearmint oil has been reported to aid in attracting adults to traps but isn’t necessary. Create a cage of hardware cloth for each trap to prevent birds from coming in contact with the glue (instructions).

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

I don’t recommend insecticides, which can also harm beneficial insects as well as birds and pollinators. They are often impractical against lanternflies, and it has been noted that the pests quickly repopulate treated vineyards. Another option is sucking up the lanternflies in a Shop-Vac filled with soapy water.

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Julie Craves

Julie Craves

Julie Craves is an ecologist and the retired director of the Rouge River Bird Observatory in Dearborn, Michigan. She answers readers’ questions about birds in her column “Since You Asked” in every issue of BirdWatching. A tireless researcher and bird bander with a keen interest in the stopover ecology of migrant birds, she is also a personable writer with a gift for making everything she writes readable and entertaining. Her first article in Birder’s World (now BirdWatching), “Forest Fire-tail,” a profile of the American Redstart, appeared in June 1994. Send a question to Julie. Read her blog at http://net-results.blogspot.com.

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