(NEXSTAR) — For nearly a decade, a stunning but destructive invasive species has spread across the US: the spotted lanternfly. With dazzling spots and a pair of bright red wings, it can be hard not to admire the bug – but would you consider eating it?
If you’re not familiar, the spotted lanternfly is a moth-like insect native to China. It was first noticed in the US by a Pennsylvania forester in 2014. While it can’t walk much on its own — with the help of wind and clear air, the spotted lanternfly can only travel about a mile under its own steam, Si Shannon Powers, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture told Nexstar – invasive species have been found in more than a dozen states.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, that includes Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Virginia, and West Virginia.
The spotted lanternfly feasts on fruits as well as ornamental and woody trees, especially the tree of heaven, a fellow invasive species native to China, according to the US Department of Agriculture. In particular, the spotted lanternfly eats sap from more than 70 different types of plants, explained PennState Extension. The damage that remains can cause the plant to become stressed, weaken its health and possibly kill it.
The insect also threatens wine industries in several states, such as New York and Michigan.
If you find an adult spotted lanternfly, like the one pictured below, agriculture officials say destroy it. To kill a spotted lanternfly, Virginia officials say “wet, stomp, or crush it.”
If the insect has not been found near you, be sure to take a picture of it, record where you saw it, and share that information with agriculture or wildlife officials before killing it.
But what about eating it?
Although it’s not a direct suggestion, spotted lanternflies have not been proven to be poisonous to humans or animals, Powers said. In areas where the lanternfly is native, people have been known to eat it.
You may find yourself eating a tainted lanternfly product.
As Powers explains, lantern flies usually feed on sap, which they then expel “as what entomologists call ‘honeydew.’” This is part of the reason why insects are so harmful — that honey can cover the leaves, like those on grape plants, and obstruct. photosynthesis, thereby killing plants.
Bees, however, eat the honey, producing a darker colored honey. It has a smoky smell, according to PennState Extension, and is not as sweet as other types of honey. It also carries a lingering aftertaste, but Powers says people have eaten this honey “without ill effects.”
There are other species that also eat lanternflies, Powers said.
Research has found that birds such as chickens and cardinals have been found eating the spotted lanternfly, Anne Johnson, a doctoral candidate in entomology at Pennsylvania State University told WESA. Other insects, including praying mantises, ants, wasps, and spiders, are also known to eat bugs.
There is even one species, known as the tire bug, that is known to lay eggs next to spotted lanternfly egg masses, co-researcher and Penn State entomology professor Kelli Hoover told WESA. Tire bugs hatch first, then wait for lanternfly eggs to hatch before ingesting them.
However, Powers cautions native species that don’t appear to eat spotted lanternflies in droves should this happen.
For now, officials are still warning that if you see the spotted lanternfly killed, and if you live in an area where it is not known, report it to local wildlife officials.
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