It seems like only yesterday that Hell’s Kitchen was littered with invasive, striking spotted lanternflies — but as the trees bloom and temperatures rise, the ubiquitous pest has emerged once again to blanket New York City.
“I just killed my first one of the year,” wrote Hell’s Kitchen resident and spotted lanternfly super-spotter Charlie Todd, who lives in the West 50s and found at least 30 early-stage spotted lanternflies on shrubs as well as his building’s walls and windows. “It was maybe 25 percent the size of my pinky fingernail,” said Charlie, “I thought it was a spider but I saw the tiny dots. They’re baaaack.” Spotted lanternflies appear to enjoy making camp in Hell’s Kitchen, where researchers suggest they may prefer the warmth of the area’s many newly-constructed steel and glass skyscrapers.
The winged insect, formally known as the Lycorma delicatula, is identified when fully grown by its red, brown and white wings adorned with polka-dot-like spots. At this time of the year, it’s less colorful — but distinctive with white dots on its black body. It originates from China and was first detected stateside in 2014 in Pennsylvania. In under 10 years, the invasive bug — which does not fly, but is skilled at plant-hopping — has taken over the East Coast, feeding on ornamental, woody and fruit trees by sucking out the sap, which weakens its host and causes an unpleasant smelling mold on infested plants.
The New York City Parks Department has pleaded with New Yorkers to help stamp out the damaging bug. “Harming our city’s wildlife is prohibited, but in an effort to slow the spread of this troublesome species, we are putting out a one-time call: if you see a spotted lanternfly, please squish and dispose of this invasive pest,” reads the agency’s website. The department also suggests travelers check all outdoor gear for spotted lanternflies and their eggs before returning to New York.
Many Hell’s Kitchen residents have taken it upon themselves to stop the spread of the spotted lanternfly by squishing them en masse, while others have found creative ways to exterminate the bug, ranging from soap sprays to an elaborate soccer-cone trap demonstrated by City Council Member Gale Brewer. One New Yorker, theater designer Brendan McCann, even made an elaborate, full-scale spotted lanternfly costume last Halloween — taking his striking spotted lanternfly look out on the town for a Times Square photoshoot.
But despite all of 2022’s efforts, it appears that the spotted lanternfly is back with a vengeance and perhaps stronger than ever. Last year, our first report on the pests in the neighborhood was in May. Will this year be the one when New Yorkers stomp them out? Or is the spotted lanternfly — like the city’s rat population — our permanent collective roommate? Stay tuned to find out…