Over the last several decades, beekeepers and consumers alike have been increasingly concerned over various issues involving the honeybee population. Pests, such as varroa mites and hive beetles, can weaken a hive, and the value of these insects is essential to many agricultural products through pollination. However, honey is one of the most popular bee products out there, and its distinct taste and nutrition makes it a popular additive to many foods.
Recently, the Spotted Lanternfly has become a concerning invasive species in the Atlantic region of the United States. These bugs are quickly spreading across Pennsylvania; in Schuylkill county, where I am from, there are large numbers of the insects on trees, roads, and even on my house. This species is originally from Asia, and they lay many spreadable eggs on a variety of objects, which are subsequently shipped to different areas. They have an unpleasant taste, so there really are not naturalized predators to the insect here (Phillips). There are large implications in the grape and wine industry in Pennsylvania, but there are additional concerns related to other insects and honeybees.
While there currently is not much published research about the interactions between spotted lanternflies and honeybees, there are some concerns about the taste of honey due to these bugs. According to Cornell University, spotted lanternflies ingest large quantities of plant sap, and in turn, the insect produces large quantities of honeydew (“Damage”). Under normal circumstances, honeybees incorporate honeydew from insects such as aphids into their honey, and it comprises a significant portion of the final product. I had the opportunity to discuss spotted lanternflies and honeybees with Dr. Robyn Underwood from Pennsylvania State University. Initially, she described early efforts to control the invasive species generally, such as eliminating their preferred food source, the Tree of Heaven. Trees that were not killed were injected with dinotefuran, which is a pesticide. At the same time, as the population of spotted lanternflies increased, beekeepers began reporting a strange taste in their fall honey. Concerned beekeepers contacted researchers, and people noticed this strange-tasting honey corresponded to when Spotted Lanternflies were appearing on the Tree of Heaven. From there, a team at Penn State began to investigate whether pesticides were reaching honey products, since honeybees are only in contact with the Lanternflies through honeydew. A paper they published in 2019 states: “None of the worker bee, wax, or honey samples collected detectable levels of dinotefuran; however, honeydew samples collected did contain dinotefuran above the detection limit with amounts ranging from 3 to 100 ng per sample (Underwood).” Based upon their early findings, the finished honey products, although they have an altered taste, do not appear to have pesticides in them and are safe for consumption. A current project there is being headed by a graduate student named Jon Elmquist, and they are studying pesticide levels in flowers as they pertain to Spotted Lanternflies.
Even though much research needs to be completed on Spotted Lanternflies to fully understand their implications, Dr. Underwood seemed relatively optimistic in terms of honeybees. Due to timing of the bugs being on Tree of Heaven, only fall honey has the altered taste. She commented that this honey could potentially be left on the hives for the bees to assist in overwintering. Additionally, some people are enjoying the taste, which evidently tastes like it has been smoked. Despite the possible severities of the invasive species, there is potentially still some good news in terms of honeybees.
“Spotted Lanternfly: Damage.” (2020). New York State Integrated Pest Management; Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Retrieved from: https://nysipm.cornell.edu/environment/invasive-species-exotic-pests/spotted-lanternfly/spotted-lanternfly-ipm/damage/
Phillips, S. (2018). “Spotted Lanternfly Could Be Worst Invasive Species in 150 Years.” All Things Considered (NPR). Retrieved from: https://eds.a.ebscohost.com/eds/detail/detail?vid=3&sid=ee369038-063b-409f-8df5-1eb1d9e9061d%40sessionmgr4008&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmUmc2NvcGU9c2l0ZQ%3d%3d#AN=6XN201807102007&db=nfh
Underwood, R. et al. (2019). “Are Non-Target Honeybees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) Exposed to Dinotefuran From Spotted Lanternfly (Hemiptera: Fulgoridae) Trap Trees?” Journal of Economic Entomology, Volume 112, Issue 6, December 2019, pg. 2993-2996. https://doi.org/10.1093/jee/toz176