Trapping Lanternflies with Innovation

 With the arrival of everyone’s favorite invasive plant hopper — the spotted lanternfly — the Academy reached out to Drexel’s Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science (BEES) alumna Emma McKee to learn more about how to catch these insects using more specialized, effective traps that minimize harm to wildlife. 

Tell us more about yourself. 

I graduated in March 2022 with my bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Drexel’s BEES department. I have a particular penchant for entomology, or the study of insects. I find the diversity of insect life on this planet to be fascinating, especially among the phenotypic traits of beetles. My career goals include laboratory research at a company that values personal health and work-life balance. 

What was the aim of your BEES research? 

I wanted to address a topic right in my backyard, observing the spotted lanternflies that appear en masse during recent Philadelphia summers. It’s important to me to value insect life, but also to recognize the harm that invasive species can cause when they upset existing ecosystems. Since its 2014 discovery in Berks County, Pennsylvania, the spotted lanternfly has shown exponential growth in an environment without natural predators. 

My project goal was to design and build something that is accessible to the public, is easy to use, minimizes harm to wildlife and effectively captures nymph spotted lanternflies. Citizen science has played a great role in spreading accessible information about spotted lanternflies. I intend to increase mindfulness around local ecology issues, such as how invasive species can disturb ecosystems and have economic impacts. The spotted lanternfly is an opportunity to encourage community involvement and education.  

Since spotted lanternflies were introduced to the U.S. in the last decade, I looked for cutting-edge research about impacts to the agricultural industry and current management techniques. Updated maps of current spotted lanternfly distribution by county are accessible from New York State Integrated Pest Management. 

Known distribution map by county as of February 2022. Provided by New York State Integrated Pest Management from Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Tell us about your modification. 

For this project, I studied various types of sedentary insect traps, such as malaise traps, pitfall traps and flight interception traps. I used this knowledge to consider alternative methods and assess a broad array of insect-trapping methods. Ultimately, I agree that the circle trap is the most innovative and cutting-edge sedentary trap for nymphs.   

Using the guide “How to Build a New Style Spotted Lanternfly Circle Trap,” by Emelie Swackhamer and Amy Korman, I proposed a modification: a mesh feature woven into the collection bags themselves, using wire for support. This will provide an exit strategy for other smaller insects, particularly other native and beneficial insects such as ants, flies and beetles. As the collection bag fills with insect catch, gravity will do the work and the bag will begin to tip over at the top.  Depending on the size of the insects compared to the size of the mesh, some will be able to escape. Experimental design and scientific analysis will determine which mesh sizes are most effective in the collection bag for maximizing nymph catch and minimizing accidental catches. 

Why are adhesive tree traps detrimental to biodiversity?  

The problem with adhesive traps is that any creature that crawls up and down tree trunks is likely to get trapped on it. Adhesive traps do not have a preference for catching spotted lanternflies over other small animals. Any insects or wildlife that climb up and down trees have the potential to get trapped in the sticky tape, later dying from starvation and suffocation. Local birds can also get trapped in the sticky tape and are unable to release themselves

In contrast, the circle trap is designed with the specific behavioral patterns of spotted lanternflies in mind. The nymphs follow a cyclical pattern of being blown out of tree canopies and needing to climb back up the tree trunk again to feed on the canopy greenery. The trap funnels these upward-climbing nymphs into a collection bag for disposal.  

It is exciting to share my project! Try building a circle trap for your own backyard. 


  1. Emma, Emelie, and Amy: This will be a really wonderful project for my 5th graders! If you are interested in Zooming with my class once school starts in September, please contact me.
    Caryn Smith
    Pre School – 5th Grade Media Specialist
    Tabernacle, NJ 08088

  2. The spotted lanternfly nymphs I see in my yard congregate on the wild grape vines most often. I know the birds eat the grapes so I’m hesitant to remove them all. Will the circle traps help this? Are there ways to deal with this issue, on or around the grapes?
    Thank you for your modifications on the original traps. I hadn’t considered the issue of other insects being harmed.

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