HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — It’s a story of immigrants from overseas — and of their descendants thriving in a new land — that warms the heart of absolutely no Pennsylvanian.

“The best thing you can do is to kill them,” said Jay Losiewicz, a technician with the Pa. Department of Agriculture.

“They,” of course, are spotted lanternflies, which few Pennsylvanians had heard of when they were first… well, spotted… in 2014 — but which are now so ubiquitous you can call them just “SLF” for short, and too many people will know exactly what you mean.

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What’s even newer is the ubiquity of spotted lanternfly nymphs, which are about the size of beetles. They wouldn’t have been here at first — experts like Losiewicz think adults migrated first, in shipments from China, and then procreated. Sometime between then and now, they were either too few or too small for most people — like Ann Hearn, a hobbyist farmer, who met us at her brother’s home and small farm in Conewago Township, York County — to notice.

Compared to what she realized in past years, Hearn said, “they start small, and they start much sooner, just like people do.” After years of dealing with the adults, this is the first year she has noticed the nymphs, probably a combination of more nymphs and her heightened awareness.

“You can see these guys are starting to regroup again on this particular stem,” she said, pointing to one plant. “And this is four hours after vacuuming it clean.”

Wait: Vacuuming?

Yes. Literally, with a shop vac. She demonstrated how she does it.

“We turn the vacuum on,” Hearn said. “We put the vacuum right underneath the vine, and we suck those guys right down in.”

Pretty cold-blooded for a proud organic farmer, isn’t she? Well, she explains, it’s either the invasive lanternflies or the native species they kill — her redbug trees or grapevines, for example. So her verdict for the lanternflies?

“Kill them,” she said, confirming her lack of mercy. “Kill them!”

And her specific approach to killing them — the vacuum rather than, say, spraying something toxic on them — is what agriculture leaders want to see. Trying to poison them could do more overall environmental harm than good.

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Speaking of which, that’s the question about one potential long-term solution to the problem. Spotted lanternflies aren’t a problem in China, where they’re native, because they have natural predators (read: bigger bugs).

So Losiewicz and his colleagues are “looking into those insects that are native to China and whether or not we can bring them here to the United States,” Losiewicz said. “We just want to make sure that they’re not going to attack anything native, something that we care about. It’d be awful if we brought them in and they attacked bees, for instance” — important pollinators and producers of honey.

Getting to that level of confidence is a decade-long project. In the shorter term, Losiewicz said a lower-reward, lower-risk but still-promising idea is intentionally breeding native insects — certain wasps — which don’t mind snacking on spotted lanternflies, even if not with the efficiency of their Chinese counterparts.

In the meantime to hear Losiewicz tell it, Pennsylvanians have not only a license to kill — but an obligation to do so. Scraping egg masses is particularly helpful.

“One spotted lanternfly can produce — with another spotted lanternfly — up to three egg masses a year,” he said. “Each egg mass is equivalent to 30 to 50 new spotted lanternflies each year. So you’re looking at 90 to 150 new lanternflies the following year, and you just continue to multiply that exponentially.”

“So unfortunately, as cute as they are,” Losiewicz said, “it is imperative that we do our best to get rid of them.”

Even — or maybe especially — the babies.

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