Hero Image

Spotted Lanternfly Overview

Spotted lanterfly life stages with quarter Andrew Dechaine

Invasive Pest

The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is an invasive pest that is currently in the mid-atlantic United States and has the potential to invade California and have a profound impact on our agriculture and our landscapes.


The spotted lanternfly feeds on the plant sap of many different plants including grapevines, maples, black walnut, and other agricultural and environmentally important plants. It causes serious damage such as oozing sap, wilting, dieback and plant death. The pest also excretes honeydew when it feeds, encouraging the growth of black sooty mold.

The preferred host of the adult spotted lanternfly is the invasive tree-of-heaven, Ailanthus altissima, which is widespread throughout California. 

Spotted Lanternfly Lifecyle 

Although the spotted lanternfly is not in California, one of the best ways to keep this pest under control is through early detection.  Being able to identify the spotted lanternfly at different points in its lifecycle is critical to proper identification and reporting. 

Spotted lanternflies have one generation per year consisting of four nymphal stages, an adult stage, and overwinter as egg masses. 

Spotted lanternfly lifecycle illustrated by Oolleen Witowskie, Penn State
Spotted lanternfly lifecycle illustrated by Oolleen Witowskie, Penn State

A. Eggs (year-round): Adult females can lay up to two egg masses in Fall, containing between 30-50 eggs, they measure about an inch long and are covered with a waxy deposit. Egg masses are often laid on smooth plant and non-plant items like tree bark, stones, vehicles, patio furniture and firewood. 

B-C. Instars: The first four stages of the spotted lanternfly referred to instars or nymphs, are incapable of flight. These instars are the developmental phases between molting while they grow into adulthood.  

B. Early nymph or First, Second and Third Instar (spring-summer): The young nymphs are black with bright white spots. They can be found crawling and climbing up and down trunks and branches of plants. 

C. Late nypmh or Fourth Instar (summer-fall): Prior to winged adulthood, they become vibrantly red with distinct patches of black and equally distinct bright white spots. 

SLF lifestages

D-E. Adults (summer-winter): Adult male and females measure about an inch long and a half inch wide at rest.  The lanternfly has unusually short orange antenna, a black head, black legs, with a yellow abdomen. Females have a red area on their last abdominal segment; males do not. About two thirds of the the length  of the forewings are gray and black spotted: the posterior end of the forewings has a brick pattern.  Their wings have a pinkish tint and are tent-shaped when closed. The spotted lanternfly can fly but they use their powerful hind legs to jump and glide. Its red and black hind wings are exposed only when in flight, startled or dying.    

Preferred Host: Tree-of-Heaven

The tree-of-heaven, Ailanthus altissima, is an invasive tree that has been documented in 45 states including California (Kron).  It is a rapidly growing deciduous tree native to both northeast and central China, as well as Taiwan. It grows almost anywhere including the side of roadways, railways, fencerows, and in forest openings.

As a preferred host of the spotted lanternfly, tree of heaven is an excellent plant to look for this pest.  The tree has several distinct features to help identify it. 

Size: Tree-of-heaven has rapid growth and can grow into a large tree, reaching heights of 80 feet and up to 6 feet in diameter.

Bark: The bark of tree-of-heaven is smooth and brownish-green when young, eventually turning light brown to gray, resembling the skin of a cantaloupe.

Leaves: Tree-of-heaven leaves are pinnately compound, meaning they have a central stem in which leaflets are attached on each side. One leaf can range in length from 1 to 4 feet with anywhere from 10 to 40 leaflets. The leaflets are lance-shaped with smooth or "entire" margins. At the base of each leaflet are one to two protruding bumps called glandular teeth. When crushed, the leaves and all plant parts give off a strong, offensive odor.

Twigs: The twigs of tree-of-heaven are alternate on the tree, stout, greenish to brown in color, and lack a terminal bud. They have large V- or heart-shaped leaf scars. The twigs easily break to expose the large, spongy, brown center, or pith.

Seeds: Seeds on female trees are a 1-to-2-inch-long twisted samara, or wing. There is one seed per samara. The samaras are found in clusters, which often hang on the tree through winter.

Tree-of-heaven examples of bark, leaflet, seeds

What you can do

  1. Don't plant tree-of-heaven
  2. Inspect trees and outdoor items for the spotted lanternfly and its  egg masses  
  3. Collect and report a suspected sighting
    1. Snag it-collect the specimen in an air-tight container
    2. Snap it-take a photo of where you found it, include landmarks
    3. Report it-report suspected sighting to the CDFA Pest hotline


Snap it Snag it Report it


"Invasive tree-of-heaven is a preferred host for two invasive insect pests that cause economic damage in California agricultural crops," UCCE Sonoma County, n.d. https://cesonoma.ucanr.edu/Integrated_Pest_Management685/Spotted_Lanternfly_187/Tree-of-Heaven/

"Keep Spotted Lanternfly Out of California," brochure, 2021. California Department of Food and Agriculture

Kron, C., "Keeping the Spotted Lanternfly out!," Newsletter, Nov. 2019. https://ucanr.edu/sites/SoCo/files/315819.pdf

"Spotted Lanternfly," UCCE Sonoma County, n.d.. https://cesonoma.ucanr.edu/Integrated_Pest_Management685/Spotted_Lanternfly_187/

"Tree-of-Heaven", Penn State Extension, Nov. 2, 2020. https://extension.psu.edu/tree-of-heaven