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Spotted lanternflies are an invasive species to the United States. Spottings of the insect in Pennsylvania are up 72% since this time last year.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

As many Penn students living on campus would confirm, it's almost impossible to walk outside without being besieged by the bugs taking over the city — the spotted lanternflies.

While not dangerous to humans, the spotted lanternfly is known to feed on 70 different types of plants and trees and is considered both an environmental and agricultural threat. Spotted lanternfly sightings are up 72% since this time last year, according to a press release from Penn's School of Veterinary Medicine.

But in its spotted lanternfly egg-sniffing dogs, Penn Vet may have a solution.

After a seventh month hiatus from the project due to COVID-19, the Penn Vet team is in the final stages of a study working to employ dogs to detect spotted lanternfly eggs as they are laid, Penn Vet reported. The study was funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. 

Jennifer Essler, a postdoctoral researcher at Penn Vet helping to lead the project, told Penn Vet that the dogs are able to detect the eggs' faint smell after rigorous training with up to 95% accuracy. Three Penn Vet dogs have been a part of the project so far, one of whom will continue on with the project. 

Lucky — an 18-month-old German Shepherd — will begin work with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, who also funded the study, as a spotted lanternfly detection dog.

Many Penn students, including Engineering junior Adam Liang, have spotted the lanternflies around Penn's campus. Liang described himself as an avid user of Squishr.

Squishr is a video-game style app that attempts to gamify the squishing of the spotted lanternfly. The app instructs users to document each of their "squishes" and even features a section entitled "Today's Top Squishers."

Engineering sophomore Margo Squire said the lanternflies are "everywhere on campus."

“They’re a major nuisance along Locust [Walk] when I’m sitting at the tables doing my work or sitting with my friends and they start landing on me," Squire said. 

Wharton senior Nick Rivera also said he has seen the lanternflies all over campus, adding that they are disturbing while he is outside.

“The lantern bugs can fly but all they do is jump," he said. "This is not only upsetting, but confusing."

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