URI researchers track expected arrival of invasive insect species

EAST PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – Another invasive insect species is expected to arrive in Rhode Island this summer, and experts at the University of Rhode Island are warning the public to watch for it in their neighborhoods and backyards.

The spotted lantern feeds on more than 70 different plants, according to Lisa Tewksbury, entomologist at URI Biocontrol Lab. She said their eggs often cling to trees, but can also be found in places like picnic tables, wooden pallets and firewood.

They emerge as nymphs, when they are black with white spots before adding shades of red. In adulthood, Tewksbury says the spotted lanterns are about an inch long and look like a gray spotted butterfly with scarlet hind wings.

12 News spoke with Tewksbury about the potential pest and its impacts:

Question: Where does this species originally come from?

A: The insect is from China and the tree of Heaven is from China. He’s a favorite host.

Question: How do these insects migrate to Rhode Island?

A: If you are near the ports, where trains or buses or transport arrive. This is certainly one thing that concerns us about the introduction of insects. For Rhode Island, the Providence area is a place we would like to look.

Q: What is the greatest concern about this potentially invasive species?

A: From an economic point of view, these insects do very well on grapes. We are therefore concerned with the vineyards.

Question: What types of trees does the spotted lantern usually look for?

A: Their preferred host is a tree of the sky, which is actually an invasive species in Rhode Island. People who have a tree of paradise in their garden may want to get rid of it, as it will reduce your chances of having spotted the lantern fly as a big pest in your garden as a less likely kind of nuisance.

Q: What should the public look for if they suspect the presence of a spotted lantern?

A: If you get droppings from a sticky substance, you might want to look at that tree and see if it could come from there. Residents in Pennsylvania have described that when the sun is up and the plants are sweating and there are a lot of spotted lanterns, it is almost as if it is raining under the trees, even with the sun.

Tewksbury and his fellow URI researchers ask the people of Rhode Island, especially those who live near the vineyards or trees of Paradise, to periodically check the spotted lanterns and take a photo or collect a specimen if they are found. Photos can be sent to Tewksbury at [email protected]