Beasts and Botany by Jess Morton


I had just stepped out of the airline terminal when a critter about fig beetle size came zipping past me and landed on the pavement by the exit. Always ready for something new to look at, I pulled out my cell phone and took its photo. The moth was one I had not seen before, heavy bodied and with black polka dots on pastel colored wings.

“Look at this beauty”, I called, as I hurried to catch up with my companions for our week-long birding expedition to Cape May. “Lets see what iNaturalist has to say”, I continued, as we began looking for the shuttle to our hotel. And that’s when I got back the Spotted Lanternfly identification, accompanied with a note that said iNaturalist was pretty sure of the identification, too. Hmm, I thought, perhaps I can get the species right if I add photos from other angles to my iNaturalist posting. But the moth had flown on.

Of course, it turned out that iNaturalist was right, and I was wrong. When we met with the rest of our party for the birding trip, I showed my find to the group. Adam, one of our two bird guides for the trip, and as it turned out, a man with wide-ranging interests in natural history, immediately agreed with iNaturalist. He said that this lanternfly is a newly introduced invasive species. It was first seen in Pennsylvania a few years ago and has now spread to adjacent states.

The nymphs of this plant hopper feed on a wide range of trees and shrubs, including many kinds of fruit. The adults have a more limited diet, but both pose serious threats to forests and agricultural crops, weakening the plants by the sap they suck in, and generating debilitating molds via the honeydew they excrete. So far, California is free of the Spotted Lanternfly, but a diligent watch is being kept for it, with hopes of eradicating a local infestation before the bugs reproduce and spread. If you believe you have seen one, please contact the Invasive Species Hotline at 1-800-491-1899.

PS If you are not familiar with iNaturalist and its companion cell phone app, Seek, look into them. I find both invaluable. Seek is a whiz at identifying your cell phone shot of any living thing. The other, for both cell phone and computer, is an amazing international database of life to which you can add the things you find.