You know that phrase, “He wouldn’t hurt a fly”? It’s usually applied to someone gentle, as a compliment. That’s a lovable person, a person you can trust. And yet, last week the internet learned that it can also apply to the most exhausting fucking person in the world: Jody Smith, a man so performatively sensitive that he not only refuses to follow expert guidance in killing an invasive fly that is directly threatening agriculture and native wildlife but who tells the New York Times about it and poses for a photo like this.
It’s not even that he looks like that, or that he refuses to kill a very bad fly, but it’s the HYPOCRISY in which he admits to the New York Times that he kills cockroaches on the regular. A quick Google revealed that this same guy made headlines just last year for getting a lobotomy and losing his sense of fear so let that be a lesson to you all: do not under any circumstances lose your fear of looking like an absolute dumbass in the New York Times.
Anyway, this video isn’t about Jody. This video is about the fly he refuses to kill.
The spotted lanternfly is a pretty little mothy looking fellow, but despite appearances he is actually a “planthopper,” which is a catchall term for insects that kind of suck at flying so they hop from plant to plant, usually utilizing camo that helps them blend in with leaves and trunks. They all feed on the plants they hop around on, poking them with little needle mouths and sucking out sap, which can lead to the spread of disease amongst the plants they feed on and also encouraging problems like fungal growth.
The spotted lanternfly is native to parts of China, where it lives in harmony by feeding on trees like the Chinese sumac and being fed on by things like several species of parasitic wasps. Unfortunately, it turns out to be quite the ambitious little buggy when traveling: back around 2012, some spotted lanternflies sneaked into some shipments to the east coast of the US, and from there they’ve quickly spread to 12 different states in an exponential growth that you might recognize from early 2020 and a tinier invasive pest. Experts suspect that if we can’t stop the lanternflies, they’ll get clear across to the West Coast in the next decade or so.
They don’t bite or sting or cause any direct pain to humans or our pets, but they do still manage to fuck things up quite a bit, as I alluded to earlier. They target plants like grapevines, maple trees, and black walnuts, all of which are critical to the US economy – experts estimate they’ve cost over $300 million in damage in Pennsylvania alone, having destroyed several vineyards already and they haven’t even hit our biggest wine regions yet, where tens of thousands of people are employed and who are already dealing with the negative impact of climate change on their crops.
But money problems aside, there’s the issue of how invasive species like the spotted lanternfly push out and destroy native species. Another species of planthopper pushed a Jamaican coconut tree to the brink of extinction in the early 2000s, for instance. Whenever we see an invasive species taking hold, it is, at the very least, taking up resources that previously supported a native species. And as I mentioned in my video on bees last year, native plants and insects are important because they are the very backbone of a healthy, functioning ecosystem.
So, what do we do about the spotted lanternfly? Well, local environmental agencies like the New York City Parks Department are calling for people to kill as many as you can. “If you see it, squish it.” That’s where that now-famous NY Times piece came in, as I guess they ran out of news that day and sent a reporter out to find as many dumbasses as they could who felt icky about squishing bugs.
Scientists are also asking for people in infested areas to be mindful when they travel. Planthoppers suck at flying, so they rely upon people to wing their way across the country by hiding themselves and their eggs in RVs, firewood, and outdoor equipment. Researchers at New York State Integrated Pest Management at Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences have put together a map that they keep updating, showing counties where the lanternfly has been, well, spotted (haha). If you live in one of those blue counties, you should do a thorough check of your vehicle and a number of common items if you’re traveling outside of the quarantined area. I’ve put links to these resources in the transcript, which as always you can find linked in the description below. Cornell has a great website full of information about the infestations, and there are links where you can report sightings of the flies if you are somewhere in New York.
But as always, we get back to a frequent topic on this channel: individual actions in the face of an overwhelming threat that can only truly be solved with competent, large-scale government action. We can only squish so many bugs with our flip flops! And just like with fighting COVID-19 by getting vaccinated, there are always going to be idiot holdouts. So just like with COVID-19 vaccinations, doing your little part DOES help and you SHOULD feel good about squishing those jerks and not violating quarantine, but we still need our state and federal agencies to step up.
The good news is that some politicians ARE. Chuck Schumer has just announced the securing of $200 million for the Integrated Pest Management program, and he’s continuing to push for the federal government to allocate an additional $22 million to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) next year to specifically control invasive species like the spotted lanternfly.
Also, as I mentioned in my previous video, the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act includes $20 billion over the next decade for Department of Agriculture efforts like the Conservation Stewardship Program, which helps farmers institute practices that will protect native insects like wild bees.
While I’m on the topic, in that last video I did on wild bees I mentioned that I was in the process of killing the lawn that came with the house we bought in 2020. I’m still working on that very slowly but the lawn is now mulch, and I have some thriving native plants like sticky monkeyflower, coyote mint, yarrow, and woolly bluecurls. There’s definitely been an increase in bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds in the yard, and I’m excited for the fall when I can plant more things in the hope that we get some rain to help them get established. I’m also planning to put in bird feeders and some drinking water, or as my partner refers to it “a gravy boat for the neighborhood crows to dunk their kills in.” He’s not quite as in love with nature as I am. But if you want more info on that or to follow along, you can check out this Twitter thread or subscribe to my alternate channel where I will be posting some video updates as the yard comes together!
I know that individual action can only do so much, but it’s honestly really gratifying to know that while I pester our government to take large systemic action, I’m able to make a happy little oasis for indigenous plants and creatures here in my backyard, and all it takes is a bit of sweat and a few bucks here and there for seeds. You can even do something like this if you have as little as a small balcony on your apartment: lots of native plants do just fine in containers, and your local pollinators will be very happy. Just something to consider if your stomach churns at the idea of squishing a spotted lanternfly!