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Stomping Out the Plague


My younger son has identified an issue that, while tangential to our current political turmoil, is not without its political implications. Regardless, it’s a story worth telling, so I’ve asked him to tell it here. Let’s call it a Guest Jab, a phenomenon that may or may not reoccur, subject to my fickle whims. Enjoy.

There’s a danger lurking in the shadows, pernicious and invasive. It came to the United States from Asia, first striking the Northeast, but now it’s spreading — faster than we’d ever imagined. And our efforts to control it have been spotty.

No, I’m not talking about the coronavirus.

Moving to New Jersey this fall, I was on a walk (masks on) with a friend when she stopped and pointed to the side of a building. There, a beautiful insect was perched on the brick: an inch in length, with gray spotted wings covering red under-wings. I was intrigued, almost charmed, but her voice seemed to break.

“Spotted lanternfly,” she whispered in a voice usually reserved for horror-film victims. “We’re supposed to kill them.”

The prospect didn’t sit too well with me. I’m a vegetarian, an animal lover, a perennial spider-saver. And yet, as I soon learned, the spotted lanternfly is an invasive species. It lays siege to woods by nesting in trees, feeding on sap, and excreting a substance that over time can kill entire forests.

Native to China, the lanternfly first came to Pennsylvania via agricultural transport, and has slowly spread to neighboring regions. That includes parts of New Jersey, such as Mercer County, where I live. Here, Covid is not the only reason for quarantine. Indeed, for those who work in agriculture, this is a “Quarantine Zone,” as dictated by the NJ Department of Agriculture. There’s even a Spotted Lanternfly Hotline.

Stopping the spread is a must. Luckily, there are things we can do. If you have an infested tree in your backyard, for instance, you can wrap double-sided tape around the trunk to trap the bugs. If you’re like me, though, spotting them daily in the streets, you cannot relegate the extermination to tape. All the articles point to the same thing: if you see one, kill it.

And so, an internal battle was waged. Logically, I understood why I was supposed to kill. I believe in science. And yet I found the logic almost fascist: Kill because they’re bad! Kill because you’ve been told to! Kill because they’re foreign!

My discomfort, however, was quickly trumped (can we still use that word?) as I began to notice the bugs everywhere. In my community, infestation is not a concept, but a visual reality. Perhaps it is affecting your community, too. Just last week, I read an article about the lanternfly’s first spotting in Oregon. Certainly, the last thing the west coast needs is another threat to its forests.

So I’ve become a killer. Painfully, but also righteously so. Stomping on these aesthetically beautiful creatures felt wrong at first, but over time I’ve come to see stomping as a civic duty. (As a side note, if you ever spot a spotted lanternfly and are wondering how to kill it, here is my advice: they don’t actually fly, but hop. That means that after evading your first few stomps, they will lose a lot of steam and practically invite your foot’s lethality.)

I suppose the lesson here is one we’re all learning right now. Listen to the science, even when it’s uncomfortable. Wear a mask, avoid friends, limit time with people indoors, even though — much like smushing pretty bugs — it all feels wrong. But right now, nothing could be more right.

Comments

  1. I question whether individual humans killing a couple of lanternflies per day could make a dent in the infestation at the population level. I suggest mass importation into New Jersey of tiny aggressive wasps endemic to China that love to eat lantenflies and might also enjoy chewing on the Christies and the Kushners.

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  2. I think Juddles probably has a point because he may speak from a place of knowledge on the subject. Not sure if it's the West Nile or Zika mosquito that scientists controlled by injecting the males with something that would poison the females. The males, apparently don't carry the virus. Science does has a way of coming up with ideas. On an aside note, this happened yesterday. https://abcnews.go.com/US/nest-murder-hornets-washington-state-1st-us-officials/story?id=73791624
    Threats and invasions are all around us. I have a researcher intervening with subterranean termites on my property free of charge.

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