Lanternflies: The Unicorns of the Insect World

A Pyrops candelaria lanternfly climbs up a tree in Chiang Mai, Thailand. (Photo: nuwatphoto/Shutterstock)

From the nymphs that shoot fiber optics from their behinds to the treehoppers that look identical to leaves, planthoppers comprise a superfamily of insects that never ceases to amaze.

Case in point: the lanternfly. This decorative little arboreal bug grows a long, protruding "nose" that even Pinocchio would envy.

Snouts Lead the Way to Sap

The lanternfly's long 'nose' gives Pinocchio a run for the money. (Photo: Charles Lam/Flickr)

Many lanternflies, like those in the Pyrops genus, have evolved long "snouts." These hollow structures operate as straws to help them get into the tree bark to feed on sap.

Lanternflies are about the size of a small grasshopper. (Photo: sumroeng chinnapan/Shutterstock)

The larger members of the planthopper group of insects, some lanternflies can grow up to three inches long.

Facing it head on, the lanternfly has an almost unicorn-like appearance. (Photo: Trahcus/Shutterstock)

Lanternflies got their name from the misconception that their long protrusions glow in the dark.

This bright green Fulgorid lantern bug looks like just another leaf on the tree trunk. (Photo: non15/Shutterstock)

While many species of lanternflies are brightly colored and conspicuous, others take the subtle route. It certainly helps to look like a leaf if you're hoping for an uninterrupted meal of tree sap!

Two lanternflies share a lychee tree. (Photo: konmesa/Shutterstock)

Lanternflies mostly live in tropical forests. Species like Pyrops candelaria especially love lychee trees for the sweet sap within.

Invasive Outside Home Range

The spotted lanternfly is considered an invasive pest in the U.S., where it first appeared in 2014. (Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)

Some lanternflies cause big trouble outside their home range. The spotted lanternfly is native to China, India and Vietnam, but has become an invasive species in South Korea, Japan and the U.S. It can damage and kill up to 70 plant species, including economically important grapes, fruit trees and hardwoods.

In the U.S., they first appeared in Pennsylvania in 2014. The state issued a quarantine and regulated the movement of plant, related materials and outdoor household items. However, small numbers of lanternflies were discovered in New York, Delaware and Virginia, reports The New York Times.

Penn State specialists are educating the public on how to help prevent the spread of these pesky insects. "Spotted lanternflies are great hitchhikers, and they will lay eggs on a multitude of outdoor objects, such as cars, RVs and campers, plant materials, and other items that could be transported out of the quarantine area," Penn State extension horticulture educator Emelie Swackhamer told Allied News. "To raise awareness, the state Department of Agriculture is using the slogan, 'Look before you leave,' emphasizing the need to inspect vehicles and other items before traveling out of a quarantined county."

With a bright red, bulbous nose, Pyrops candelaria resembles an insect version of Rudolph. (Photo: Yusoff Ahmad/Flickr)

Pyrops candelaria is a species that comes in many colors and patterns, widely spread throughout southeast Asia.

The snake-headed lanternfly, or Fulgora laternaria, has a reptilian snout. (Photo: BIOphotos/Shutterstock)

Fulgoria laternaria, also known as the snake-headed lanternfly and peanut-headed lanternfly, does not have a long, skinny nose like its cousins. Instead, it's got a strange lump of a peanut for a nose that even sports a deceptive pair of false eyes.

Beautifully colored Pyrops spinolae lanternflies can be found throughout Thailand's Kaeng Krachan National Park. (Photo: Rushen/Flickr)

Hundreds of species of lanternflies live all throughout the world's tropical and subtropical regions, and some are even native to North America. Be sure to keep an eye out for these intriguing insects!