Can parasitic wasps handle NJ’s spotted lanternfly invasion?
⚫ Researchers have their eyes on a pair of parasitic wasps that feast on laternflies
⚫ The concern is, will the wasps harm other bugs or trees?
⚫ Right now in New Jersey, spotted lanternflies are in their nymphal stage
We've been hearing it from the experts for a while: humans can only do so much to get a handle on New Jersey's spotted lanternfly population, and the real solution would be to identify a predator that can naturally take care of the Asia-native pest.
The main problem is, none of those natural predators — at least ones that can make a reasonable dent in the spotted lanternfly numbers — are found in the United States.
But through studies occurring beyond New Jersey's borders, researchers believe they've identified two parasitic wasps from Asia that could do the trick here, if they can be safely introduced.
One species noted by researchers at the University of Delaware would attack lanternfly eggs, which can be seen on New Jersey trees from September to June. The other species takes on the young nymphal stages of the bug, which can be seen this time of year in the Garden State.
The spotted lanternfly was first discovered in the U.S. in Pennsylvania in 2014. It then spread to neighboring states. The insect does not harm humans or animals, but it can be a nuisance. It's biggest impact is on agricultural crops and hardwood trees — the bugs feed on the sap of many different plants.
"It's definitely a big stress having thousands of these bugs sucking on you like a leech," said Jason Reitter, a manager with Davey Tree Expert Company in Morris Plains. "You don't want to see an invasive species come in and just start wiping things out like the emerald ash borer. It's a horrible thing."
Since the spotted lanternfly invasion began, New Jersey officials have been encouraging residents to kill the bugs whenever they get the chance, or scrape their egg masses from trees.
But no human work could replicate the potential impact of a natural predator.
When reached for comment, Jeff Wolfe, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, said the department is excited that the natural-predator research has advanced to this point. But, Wolfe warned, confirming and releasing a natural predator isn't a quick task.
"The process for approving the release of beneficial insects into the environment can be somewhat lengthy, so it could take as long as 10 years for the populations of introduced biocontrol agents to build up a population large enough to begin to control spotted lanternfly," Wolfe said.
Researchers will want to ensure that the wasps, when released into the environment, wouldn't prefer other insects over the spotted lanternfly, or go after U.S.-native plants and trees.
Some insects and fungi have been found attacking spotted lanternflies in the U.S., the Department of Agriculture noted. But they're unlikely to greatly reduce population levels.