Welcome to Lower Hudson PRISM's Invasives Strike Force EcoQuest Survey page!!!
Do you love being outdoors and searching for interesting critters and plants in nature? Or maybe you love taking photos when you are out hiking or gardening? Or maybe you just love scavenger hunts! Our EcoQuest surveys allow you to become a part of the action and help us document invasive species in our region while having fun in the process! To become an EcoQuest surveyor, all you need to do is download an easy- to-use mobile app, iNaturalist, and register here for further instructions. Once iNaturalist is downloaded, you can immediately start photographing and uploading pictures, instantly connecting you to thousands of other citizen scientists just like you!
To help you build up your knowledge of invasive species in our region, we offer a monthly challenge which keys in on (a) focal invasive species (and sometimes a native plant counterpart). Each month, Lower Hudson PRISM staff will announce a new scavenger hunt-style challenge to find and document an invasive plant or animal (and their native counterpart!) by taking and sharing photos via iNaturalist. See below for this July's Tracking Tree of Heaven/Spotting Spotted Lanternfly! challenge, instructions and other past challenges. While you do not have to join our specific project to participate in the challenge, we HIGHLY encourage you to do so. Search for us, Invasives Strike Force EcoQuest , on iNaturalist and join today to upload your photos directly to our project! Become an official member of our team today!
Tracking Tree of Heaven /Spotting Spotted Lanternfly : July 2020
Tree of heaven can be distinguished from other look-alike species, like staghorn and smooth sumac, by its smooth leaf margins and distinct notches at the base of each leaflet which contain glands which give tree of a heaven its unique "burnt/rancid peanut butter" odor. Also note the yellowish-pink seeds of tree of heaven which begin forming in clusters on female plants this time of year. Photo credit: bugwood.org
This month, we are asking volunteers to keep on the lookout for an invasive plant-insect pest combination: tree of heaven and spotted lanternfly, respectively. Tree of heaven is a common invasive tree in the Lower Hudson PRISM region that is often confused with sumac. The large compound leaves of tree of heaven are made up of many paired leaflets that are arranged opposite of one another on the extended leaf stalk, or rachis. When crushed, these leaflets (or any branch or trunk of tree of heaven, for that matter) give off a distinctive odor like rancid peanut butter or burnt rubber. The leaf margins/edges are smooth unlike sumac or walnut leaves which are serrated and do not have a burnt smell to them. At this time of year, you may also begin to find large clusters of yellow to pinkish papery-winged samaras (seeds) on growing on the tree of heaven (see photo above).
Spotted lanternfly (SLF) is an invasive planthopper species native to China and Vietnam which has infested areas of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Established populations have not yet been recorded in NYS and early detection of this species (through efforts like this EcoQuest!) is critical in keeping it that way! At this time of year, adult and late stage nymph spotted lanternflies (see photo below) may begin to start congregating around tree of heaven, one of its preferred host species. Adult SLF appear as moth-like insects with distinctive pink wings with black spots and are usually about 1 inch in length. The late nymph stage (non-flying) SLF individuals (~3/4") have started to develop a red pigment on their backs in addition to white and black spots (see middle photo below in bottom row). They may be found on all parts of the plant.
Make sure to check out this informative video created by our Invasive Species Citizen Science Coordinator, Brent Boscarino, on some tips for how to spot tree of heaven and spotted lanternfly in the field! You can also find more details on how to spot SLF by linking to this webinar given by Joyce deVries Tomaselli of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Dutchess County.
Keep a close lookout for these species next time you are outside and post your photos to iNaturalist to help us track their distributions in our region! Don’t forget that you can also use the Seek app (which can help with your initial ID in real time!) if you’d like a little more of a confidence boost in your ID skills prior to posting the picture to the iNaturalist app. Sometimes this dual method helps alleviate some of the guesswork associated with initial picture angles and photo distances when photographing on the iNaturalist app.