We Went on a Lanternfly-Killing Rampage. They’re Still Here. – Michmutters

We Went on a Lanternfly-Killing Rampage. They’re Still Here.

Last week, a pretty moth on a flower outside a window caught this reporter’s eye. Closer inspection confirmed suspicion: It was a spotted lanternfly, an invasive insect that New Yorkers are under scientists’ orders to kill without mercy.

By now it is clear that the lanternflies, which can devastate crops like grapes and apples, harm trees and make it unpleasant to sit outside, have embarked on their most robust metropolitan-area invasion since their first appearance here in 2020. And while New Yorkers have taken to bug murder with typical verve, relying on citizens as vigilante exterminators is proving inadequate.

Here is a partial list of the things New Yorkers have seen lanternflies do in the past few days: Crawl skyward past a ninth-floor window on Roosevelt Island. Get squished by day campers in Prospect Park, their carcasses carved for a competition. Settle on the lapel of a smartly dressed woman in a Midtown cafe. Hang out on a Frosé dispenser in the sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art. Lie drenched on Rockaway Beach, apparently drowned by waves. And brazenly occupy ledges, screens, trees and terraces across the five boroughs, sometimes evading multiple stomp attempts.

Since lanternflies, native to parts of Asia, arrived in the United States in 2011 — in a shipment of stones, scientists believe — infestations have been documented in 12 states, including across Pennsylvania and New Jersey, on Long Island, and in the Hudson Valley and Western New York. Sightings of individual lanternflies, tracked by the New York State Integrated Pest Management project, stretch further. The spread brings the bugs within range of upstate orchards and Finger Lakes vineyards — which the adult lanternflies can damage by feeding on leaves and stems.

All of which raises the question: Is citizen bug-stomping really the way to go?

Marielle Anzelone, an urban ecologist in New York, says the question is part of a bigger conundrum about the roles of individuals and governments in tackling sprawling, hard-to-solve environmental problems.

Just as asking individuals to recycle and drive less does not obviate the need for national and global government action to address the climate crisis and protect ecosystems, she said, freelance bug-stompers cannot turn back the lanternfly tide by themselves. In an ideal world, state agencies would do more to fight invasive species.

Still, these agencies tend to lack the personnel and resources, and every little bit of effort helps.

“The sole reliance on individuals is not going to get us there,” Ms. Anzelone said, referring to both lanternflies and the heating planet.

“But maybe individual action is a way of pulling people in,” she added. “It’s not so much about that individual person’s carbon footprint or those three lanternflies they kill in a summer. It’s about educating and engaging and perhaps turning them into the person who calls their council member to ask for more funding for the parks department, or votes for local and national candidates to take real action on climate.”

Lanternflies, Ms. Anzelone said, “invite a lot of participation.” They are easy to identify, they fly clumsily and they show themselves among humans, not just “out in the woods — and there’s something you can do,” she said.

City and state agencies have posted instructions on how to identify the insects (the larvae look like ticks, while adults resemble gray, spotted moths, with red coloring often hidden behind their wings), how to avoid spreading them (check cars and outdoor equipment before traveling), how to document and report them, and how to buy or build environmentally-safe traps.

Joseph Borelli, a Republican City Council member from Staten Island, recently urged the city’s Parks and Health Departments to take action against the flies. In a letter first reported by the Staten Island Advance, he called them a “new threat to our ecology” that is “reproducing at an alarming rate” and frightening some residents, though the flies do not harm humans or animals.

But Mr. Borelli did not wait for a city agency to take action. On Saturday, in a park in Staten Island’s Tottenville neighborhood, I sponsored a free trap-building workshop.

Participation, Ms. Anzelone said, may get people thinking and acting on wider threats, like other invasive species edging out bees and the native plants they prefer. There is already a growing movement among gardeners to grow pollinator-friendly species.

Some native-plant advocates see a silver lining to the ongoing invasion: Lanternflies feed on the tree of heaven, or ailanthus, another invasive, fast-growing Asian species imported in the 1700s to drain swamps and shade streets.

New York has a love-hate relationship with the ailanthus, a symbol of strength in the classic “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” and a stinky, more ambiguous botanical character in a more recent Brooklyn novel, “The Fortress of Solitude” — and now , for the first time, a species has appeared that could challenge it.

As for freelance killing, Ms. Anzelone voted yesterday with her feet — or foot. She saw a lanternfly on a Brooklyn sidewalk. She photographed it. Then she stepped on it.

“I did my own little part,” she said.

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