Burlington County wants to make an early strike against the destructive spotted lanternfly by enlisting volunteers to kill their eggs before they're ready to hatch in May.

More than 70 plant species, including cultivated grapes and hops, are in danger from the spotted lanternfly's presence.The beautiful species with bright red wings native to China was first confirmed in New Jersey in 2018. It is considered an excellent "hitchhiker" and has been recorded in all 21 counties.

The Burlington County Park System and the Rutgers Cooperative Exchange are looking for people to scrape the egg masses from trees to help control their population. The job fell to newly hired Resources Program Associate Kate Brown of the Cooperative Extension of Burlington County who helped develop the "Beat the Bug" program.

"Right now, the adults are not here, the nymphs are not here, all we are left with are these egg masses that are on trees and other hard surfaces," Brown told New Jersey 101.5. "Each of those egg masses contains between 30 and 50 nymphs, which will become adults later in the season. They can also be found on vehicles, trailers and other outdoor items when driving to a location outside the quarantine zone."

Masses tend to look like a smear of mud or dried bubblegum. They can be found on tree trunks and branches, plants, furniture, siding, decks, sheds and windowsills.

Spotted lanternfly egg mass
Spotted lanternfly egg mass (Kate Brown)

Volunteers will receive a plastic card to scrape the egg mass into a plastic bag filled with alcohol or hand sanitizer. After scraping the eggs into the bag, it should be closed and swirled so the eggs fall into the alcohol and die. Just scraping the eggs to the ground and stepping on them does not ensure they are destroyed.

"It's going to take everyone to do their part to reduce the population and reduce the spread of them. It's a very widespread pest so it's just a community effort," Brown said, adding that keeping an eye out for them will also help reduce the use of pesticides.

Brown said the lanternflies are so new in the state it's not known for sure if the cold, snowy winter impact the survival of the eggs.

Among the favorite targets of the spotted lanternflies are grapes, which poses a serious threat to New Jersey's wine industry.

"It's one of their preferred hosts, so by investing a little time in scraping you're helping to protect that industry," Brown said.

They also target some landscape plants and attacked a silver maple at Brown's childhood home.

Volunteers can join the Beat the Bug program by clicking on the county website.

Previous reporting by Dino Flammia was used in this report

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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