There was once a time when you could see a firefly light up a summer sunset and it would have felt joyous. But since their first appearances on Staten Island in August of 2020, spotted lanternflies have put the kibosh on otherwise innocent bug sightings in the city.
Originating from Asia, the Spotted Lanternfly is an invasive species estimated to feast on at least seventy species of plants in the U.S., including those in precious wine vineyards across the state; this June, Asmaa Elkeurti, reported in the New York Times that “grape growers on Roosevelt Island… are already seeing a decline in plant health this season, with some gardeners removing their vines entirely to help curb the bug’s spread.” If you see one in New York City, you should kill it on sight, per the New York State Department of Agriculture.
On my way to grab a cup of coffee, I see a spotted lanternfly crawling along the pavement. It takes a deep breath for me to stomp on it. I lift up my shoe and see that I’ve killed it. Flattening it completely. A few feet ahead, I see another one clumsily crawling, and I do what needs to be done there too.
Outside of the Nook, I meet a few strangers and asked them how they feel about killing spotted lanternflies. “It’s not something I particularly enjoy,” someone named Christina tells me in a gentile Southern accent. “I’m not a naturally violent person, so often I let them go. But it’s a mood thing.” I catch a glimpse of a flower tattoo on one of her palms.
“You could say that it’s an ongoing dilemma,” she says.
Sean, her friend, wears a t-shirt with an outline of a large butterfly on it and tells me: “Yeah, when I see them, I step on them because they’re invasive.”
He continues, “I do it because we’re supposed to, not because I want to. It’s weird ‘cos they look pretty and ancient, don’t they?”
We digress about global warming, how ocean temperatures keep rising, how arctic ice sheets are melting and how those could release dormant viruses into the world. All of this reminds me of the swarms of haunting locusts in John Boorman’s 1977 movie Exorcist II: The Heretic. Where is Pazuzu the demon lurking now?
Nearby, someone named Marie offers me her take on the latest wave of spotted lanternflies.
“They seem to be getting faster,” she says, “I kill them whenever I can.”
Photos taken by Max Rovo for Bushwick Daily.
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