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Reach for the Hose if You're Seeing Spots

Q. Suzanne writes: "I live in Philadelphia, near the Schuylkill Valley Nature Center. My trees are full of spotted lantern flies. How do we kill them? Can we spray them with hornet spray? We can see the pests high up in the trees and I have a can of hornet spray that says it can reach twenty feet."

A. As Charlie Brown would always say when Lucy yanks the football out from beneath him yet again, "arrgggh!" Do not buy "hornet spray". Do not use "hornet spray" on anything--including hornets! It'll just make them mad and then you'll be stung repeatedly by creatures that previously had no interest in you.

The use of a product like "hornet spray" is a panic reaction; and such reactions are never a good idea. Oh--and you do realize that any liquid that shoots twenty feet in the air is going to soak you more than what you're aiming at, right? Do you even know what's in it and what specific human cancers it's connected with?

To repeat what I've been trying to pound into the residents of this planet for the past thirty years: Chemical insecticides are NEVER the answer. The real answer--in this specific circumstance and many others--is water. If your roses are covered with aphids, for instance, cradle the plant in one hand and blast the rats with the sharpest stream of water you can coax out of your nozzle.

"See Jane? See the little insects? Now see the little insects go flying! THAT's fun, Jane", says Dick.

Researchers have confirmed that sharp streams of water are more effective at getting rid of aphids than any chemical pesticide. A laser-like blast will kill up to 95% of the aphids on contact; the remaining few are too depressed to go on. The same is going to be true for pests like the lantern fly; their wings and furry bodies are going to be severely damaged by sharp streams of water.

Low water pressure? Hose can't reach that far? Buy a pressurized sprayer; they come in sizes from a hand-held quart up to three-and-five gallon backpack models. That's right: a big bug-killing machine with a wand slung over your shoulder: "Who you gonna call? Fly Busters!"

Targets up high? Now we know why God made pressure washers! No matter the delivery system, you can achieve a huge knockdown with nothing more dangerous than water landing on you, your children, your pets, birds, bees, butterflies, wombats, whatever. And you're essentially using the home version of a firehose; if that doesn't sound like fun there's something seriously wrong with you.

Always remember: "Water is the best pesticide".

Some of you may not be familiar with the pest under discussion, because as recently as a year ago, it was mostly confined to one small corner of Pennsylvania. But now it's been confirmed in Delaware and parts of the greater DC region. And officials have made an unusually strong call for "citizen scientists" to assist in the effort to slow the spread, beginning with a call to report any that are 'spotted' outside of those regions.

What does it look like? It's almost impossibly distinctive. The adults are said to be about an inch long, although the ones I've seen look somewhat bigger. Two sets of wings. The ones near the head are grey with black spots, and the wings toward the rear are red with black spots. The head and legs are black, and the abdomen is yellow with black stripes.

You got that right--it's krazy looking! And the immature stage--the nymphs--are equally distinctive. I saw some in my garden two seasons ago and thought I had been transported into a 1940's Warner Brothers cartoon. They were shaped like tiny squares and black with round white spots. Yes, cartoon dice with skinny legs.

And be aware that most of the ID pictures of the adults online have the wings spread out to show you the wild colors; but in reality those wings are often folded back when it's hopping and feeding; and that's when you can tell it's a plant hopper and not a moth or any kind of fly.

The way it spreads is pretty nefarious. After the adults finish feeding in the fall, the females lay 50 to a hundred eggs apiece on a solid object and cover the eggs with a substance that makes the nursery look like a patch of brown mud. These egg masses have been found on firewood, lawn furniture, cars and trucks. So if you live in a zone of infestation and you load up for a camping trip in another state or take some firewood to a bonfire in the Carolinas...

...You could have hitchhikers on the outside of the vehicle and in that firewood.

So don't transport firewood. In addition, State Extension agents are urging people--including children--to learn to identify the egg masses on surfaces. I actually got great information from a coloring book published by the PA Department of Agriculture...


Hey; I stayed inside the lines.

Anyway, if you see what you think is an egg mass, scrape it into a jar of rubbing alcohol.

And be aware that invasive insects are problems for us, but big bags of protein for beneficial insects. These pests have natural enemies back in Asia that are being actively researched--and several different fungi appear to be attacking them in the wild. So don't panic, have your Super Soakers locked and loaded and look at any 'mud' on outdoor surfaces with a hairy eye.

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