Lanternflies: Pumpkin ‘Em, Report’ Em, and Fish ‘Em!

Spotted lantern fly model
The lanterns are a delicious morsel for hungry fish and a relatively light tie! A fly pattern (left) next to the spotted real lighthouse (right)

As soon as the spring fly flies arrive, they disappear just as quickly, leaving us to think about summer fishing with landlords. As a seasoned fly fisherman, I have used this term in the past, thinking it’s just another common word. In reality, most people do not know that terrestrial refers to an animal that lives on land as opposed to living in water. Think of terrestrial insects instead of fat flies (and actually rats, fall into this category as a fun aside). If you are in the west, this is an exciting time filled with jumping shrimp. On the east coast, we do not have an endless and reliable cap and think more about flying ants, beetles and cicadas than shrimp. But in recent years, an invasive new species has emerged that has provided an interesting new opportunity for flies during summer dog days; enter the invasion of contaminated lanterns (SLF).

Adult lanterns with gray wings with black dots. Photo courtesy of @fishingwithaphd

While the polluted lantern was first discovered in Berks County, Pennsylvania in 2014, I have realized over the years that most fly fishermen, even those on the East Coast, still have no idea what a spotted lantern is. . The most common question is about the name. Spotted lanterns are very different from lightning insects. Although they have a “lantern” in their name, they do not produce any light. Their name comes from two bright red / red hind wings that lie beneath the gray front wings with large black spots. When flying, the lower red wing produces a beacon-like appearance. If the insect itself were not so terrible, its beauty would surely be appreciated. They are also 100% harmless to humans without the ability to bite.

But do not let his innocence and beauty fool you. Headlights are bad news in terms of environment and economy. The lanterns eat everything they see and have placed siphons on the east coast. They love vines, fruit trees, soybeans and many hardwoods. Adults have a large siphon that they use to absorb the fluid and life of any tree they call home. So say goodbye to your good wine made from grapes or hardwood made from hardwood. In its wake, the lanterns leave behind a clean, sticky residue of sugar (referred to as honey dew) that promotes the growth of a black fungus called soot mold. For humans, this is just an inconvenience as it blackens wall and yard furniture. But for plants, this is a death sentence in the future blocking photosynthesis.

Like coronavirus, stopping the spread of headlights is essential. Promotional campaigns are polluted across the east coast prompting people to check for flies with hitchhikers or egg masses and literally “stop them”. You are required to kill every beacon you meet. These lanterns are clumsy flying and use jumps to move in most places. It is quite enjoyable to eradicate these flies, but in some valleys or places, such as the city of Philadelphia, it is almost the level of the plague. Taking these promotions seriously would leave a person trampling for hours, if not days.

To prevent the spread, a brief understanding of the headlight life cycle is key. The life cycle itself is no surprise to the clever fly fisherman. They begin as an almost invisible egg mass resembling a pale gray lichen seen on the sides of trees. In winter, these bags present the greatest possibility of spreading. Egg masses are found in rocks, trees, firewood, and even cars. In some countries, travel quarantine has occurred due to infection of egg masses and lanterns. After hatching, the headlights go through four stages of immature nymphs called instars. All of these stages are wingless and insects jump around. These stars occur from May to July, where each phase becomes larger. In July, adult forms are reached and mating rituals begin.

The Lantern Trap catches hundreds of immature stars
A Lanternfly trap has caught hundreds of immature stars infecting this tree. Photo courtesy of Jason Pitarres.

As mentioned earlier, lanterns are clumsy flying, similar to stone flies. With a strong wind and their sliding abilities, it is no wonder they end up on the waterway. It’s even more amazing how quickly the fish can zero in on new prey. We have seen this several times with populations of fir moths on western cliffs and the boom of Japanese beetles here in the east. A rocket scientist did not have to figure out what would happen as the lanterns spread across the east coast and found themselves stuck in a little fishy water. This is really the silver lining for us fishermen and while I wish they never came to the US, we can also try to eliminate the problem by taking advantage of the situation.

A wild brown that evoked a lantern pattern tied by Rob Gentry
A brown trout that snatched a lantern pattern tied by Rob Gentry. Photo courtesy of @fishingwithaphd

I do not think that matching the cap is so important in relation to the headlights. A large foam black body with a red wing should suffice. However, if you want to complicate things, there are some models that are equally appealing to the fisherman and the fish. Pennsylvania native model Jayson Mumma uses realistic JS nymph legs, a foam body, a red chicken saddle for the lower arm and some rooster neck feathers as above the wings. If you want to become even more sleek, use large argot-spotted back feathers as wings on wings. Last year, we had the incredible opening (or undervalue depending on who you ask) Brood X jacket with a black and red body, a headlight-like palate. I would not be surprised if a trout confused the lantern pattern with a cicada pattern or vice versa.

Adult beacon (left) next to a masterly related interpretation (right) sold at Holsinger’s Fly Shop in Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of @shawn_holsinger

Dry fly fishing is usually a delicate art form. Lanterns, cicadas, or stone flies, however, are not only incompetent fliers, but also large insects. Most are about an inch long. And that means, with a big gust of wind, these insects fall from the trees and go down into the water with a considerable splash. Therefore, forget the details of trying to lower that dry fly without disturbing the water and discard these large flies with a greasy spray. This is the best part about fishing for these flies and the touch usually faces an explosive meal!

I would like to give some scientific evidence that the headlights are leaving. But just like COVID, it comes in waves. 2020 was a wild year for headlights with those filling the streets across the three-state area. 2021 was a little softer. However, they are spreading across the East Coast and these SLFs have been found in New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia. Time will tell what 2022 will bring.

But for now, we can do our part and remove any beacon that comes our way. Please kill any lanterns you meet. And please report headlights if they are located in an area that has unreported cases. And finally, enjoy the fact that lanterns do not bite us and do not spread disease. They may not be good news, but they certainly open up opportunities for fun with dried flies!

Photo courtesy of John Fallon.

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