For the past two years, insect experts and agriculture officials have been urging homeowners and business owners to kill spotted lanterns. But some of the most popular devices used to smother these insects – glue traps – have accidentally injured and killed birds, according to Raptor Trust officials.
“While the spotted lanternfly is a big concern in our area, the unintended consequences of this remediation method far outweigh its effectiveness, and in some cases the bycatch victims themselves are things that could tackle the lanterns first,” the bird rehabilitation group posted on its Facebook page on August 2.
Christopher Soucy, executive director of the non-profit organization Raptor Trust, based in Morris County, said there had been a substantial increase in the number of birds stuck in lantern glue traps that people attach to tree trunks to trap and kill invasive insects that have grown rapidly in New Jersey and other eastern states in recent years.
The disturbing result: Many birds are seriously injured and some are dying, Soucy told NJ Advance Media.
So far this year, The Raptor Trust has already responded to 61 cases involving birds caught in glue traps, including 53 in June and July alone.
“At this point last year (in June and July), we had six,” Soucy said. “So it’s almost a tenfold increase this year…This year it exploded.”
Of the 61 birds that were taped and collected by the wildlife rehabilitation organization as of Aug. 3, 15 have recovered and been released, Soucy said. However, 23 are still in care with injuries, and all the other birds are dead.
“Once they’re in that trap, they have a hard time breaking free,” Soucy said, noting that the birds suffer “feather damage and abrasions, skin damage, as well as trauma, stress and shocks”.
Adding to the trauma, he said, is the fact that the birds don’t understand that the human vets and veterinary technicians who work at the Raptor Trust are trying to help them and save them from their injuries. The birds are afraid and want to get out of captivity and return to their natural habitat.
While many different bird species have gotten stuck in glue traps, the most common types are smaller birds like songbirds and gray catbirds, Soucy said.
Advice for owners
Although The Raptor Trust does not recommend the use of glue traps on trees – due to the danger they pose to birds and other wildlife – if homeowners and business owners decide to use them, Soucy says they should install a protective barrier around the glue using a wire mesh material such as “hardware cloth” with small holes, usually half-inch by half-inch.
Holes of this size should be small enough to keep birds out and allow the intended targets – the Mottled Lanterns – to pass through and reach the glue traps.
The organization says a safer alternative to help protect birds and small mammals is a “ring trap,” something that’s been used successfully in Pennsylvania. Ring traps are designed to capture lantern nymphs as the creatures crawl up trees to feed on leaves.
“This new trap is made of a mosquito net covered in plastic and does not use any sticky material. It’s basically a tunnel that SLFs walk into,” notes the Penn State Extension in this fact sheet. “When they move upwards in the trap, they end up in a dead-end collection container where they die.”
States with lantern issues
Mottled Lanterns have been observed in New Jersey and 10 other states including Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia .
At this time of year, insects are making their transition from tiny nymphs to their young adult phase. They started in spring and early summer with black bodies and white spots, then turned red with black spots and white spots as summer progressed.
Today, many of New Jersey’s Mottled Lanterns are growing bigger, growing wings, and taking flight to invade more trees and plants, just as they did last summer and fall.
“If you find a bird caught in a glue trap, take it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible,” The Raptor Trust says on its Facebook page.
The Raptor Trust can be reached at 908-647-2353 or 908-647-1091.
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Len Melisurgo can be reached at LMelisurgo@njadvancemedia.com.