How to Easily Catch Spotted Lanternflies Using a Water Bottle

Unchecked by natural predators, the invasive insect species is rapidly expanding across the United States

Dozens of spotted lanternflies captured in a plastic water bottle
Spotted lanternflies naturally leap away from predators when threatened. Holding a water bottle near one will usually prompt the bug to flee, so it launches itself directly into the trap.  Integrative Ecology Lab at Temple University via YouTube

For an invasive pest, the spotted lanternfly is a beautifully colorful insect with delicately spotted wings that unfold to reveal a striking pastiche of red, white and black. But don’t be fooled—this planthopper can be destructive, feeding on nutrients sucked from inside plants and leaving behind sugary honeydew that later turns to sooty black mold.

The insect is native to Asia, where it traditionally feeds on the tree species Ailanthus altissima, commonly called tree of heaven. Insect predators keep the spotted lanternfly’s population in check in its native habitat, but in recent years, the species has begun to spread worldwide, likely through global trade. After being found in Pennsylvania in 2014, the damaging pest has now been spotted in nearly a dozen other states.

The stakes are high—scientists fear the rapidly reproducing insect could ravage economically important crops, such as grapes, apples, hops and more. While government officials have worked feverishly to deploy insecticides and remove eggs and nymphs, they’ve also increasingly turned to the public for help. The easiest way to ensure there’s at least one less spotted lanternfly in the world is to smash each one you see, writes David Kindy for Smithsonian magazine.

“Kill it! Squash it, smash it...just get rid of it,” the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture urges on its website dedicated to the species. Neighboring New Jersey has branded its efforts to eradicate the insects as “Stomp It Out!” with graphics showing footprints.

Or, if you’re looking for a little more humane and less messy solution, you can take the advice of a viral water bottle hack tested by Temple University’s Interactive Ecology lab. Although spotted lanternflies have wings, they're actually considered leafhoppers for their proclivity for jumping from one plant to the next. Likewise, whenever the bugs are trapped or in danger, their first instinct is to leap away.

Their tendancy to jump around can make chasing after them to squish them difficult. You can take advantage of this leaping instinct by simply holding an empty water bottle over the insects. The spotted lanternflies will launch themselves straight into the bottle, allowing you to easily collect them. (Remember to put the cap on in between captures so they don't escape.) Once you have a bottle full of invasive pests, you can just put the bottle inside your freezer to humanely kill the insects. 

If you want to up your bug-catching game, you can grab a high-tech electric fly swatter or a gun that shoots table salt at bugs, Chase McPeak reports for The Manual.