Invasive Insect Species 2024

Nature can be our friend, but it can also be our foe. When species that aren’t native to a particular area suddenly show up, they often wreak havoc on native ecosystems, causing widespread damage to plants, animals, and landscapes. 

Most invasive species become invasive through human activities, like global trade and the accidental transportation of insects through travel. That means it’s up to us to identify and stop invasive insect species from taking over.

U.S. Invasive Species by State

Invasive species are everywhere, but they do tend to affect some areas more than others. Pest control in Florida, for instance, where temperatures and humidity are high (perfect conditions for most bugs), looks different from pest control in other regions.

The Most Common Invasive Species in the U.S.

Keep your eyes peeled for some of these common invasive insect species so you can stop the spread and protect our local ecosystems.

1. Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

A brown marmorated stink bug with telltale striped antennae. 

  • Scientific Name: Halyomorhpa halys
  • Native to: Eastern Asia (China, Japan, Taiwan)

The brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) was accidentally introduced to the US during the mid-1990s, probably from shipping containers. 

Its distinct shield shape and mottled brown color make it look very similar to native stink bug species. 

What makes the BMSB stand out are its abdominal edges and unique antennae, which have alternating dark and light bands. 

Like other stink bugs, the BMSB is known for being… well, stinky! When threatened or crushed, these pests release a strong odor that, while not dangerous, can be quite unpleasant. 

Environmental Impact

Since the brown marmorated stink bug feeds on fruits, veggies, and other crops, it poses a huge risk to agriculture nationwide. It’s primarily impacted the mid-Atlantic region, though the BMSB does appear to be making its way westward. 

Over 60 plant species are vulnerable to the BMSB, including staples like apples, citrus, tomatoes, and peppers. When the bugs feast on produce, they inject digestive enzymes to help themselves extract nutrients. 

The small dead spots they leave behind can cause fruit drops and contaminate entire batches of agricultural goods. 

2. Asian Long-Horned Beetle

An adult long-horned beetle with classic black and white antennae.

  • Scientific Name: Anoplophora glabripennis
  • Native to: Asia (China, Japan, Korea)

The Asian long-horned beetle (ALB) has dramatically long black and white striped antennae that are almost as big as its entire body! The ALB first appeared in the US around 1996 and likely hitched a ride via wooden packing materials. 

Environmental Impact

The ALB’s most significant impact is on hardwood trees, like poplars, maples, and elms. Female ALBs chew tiny cavities into the tree bark or trunk to lay eggs. When the larvae mature, they burrow into the tree’s heartwood and feed. 

The destruction caused by the feeding can already threaten the tree’s life. However, adult beetles emerge from holes in the bark to start new generations and leave behind gaping spots where sap can flow freely. 

This leaves trees vulnerable to secondary attacks from other insects. Likewise, the damage to a tree’s internal structure can cause the tree or its limbs to fall and cause injuries or damage. 

3. Spotted Lanternfly

An adult spotted lanternfly spreads its wings, showcasing its distinct markings.

  • Scientific Name: Lycorma delicatula
  • Native to: China

The spotted lanternfly has made headlines all over the US in the past few years, and for good reason. The lanternfly is a newcomer; it first appeared in 2014  in Pennsylvania, likely from a shipment of stone. 

Within a few months, the lanternfly had already rapidly spread to other states. 

This pest goes through several life stages, each with distinct changes to its appearance. 

As a nymph, it looks like a small black beetle with bright white spots. As it matures, the lanternfly progresses into what looks like a larger black beetle, this time with bright red markings and its classic white spots. 

Finally, the adult lanternfly emerges with large, eye-catching wings.

Environmental Impact

Spotted lanternflies are everywhere. Literally. They can reproduce and spread so quickly that they seem to overtake an entire area, swarming in giant masses that can coat entire surfaces. 

They cause damage by laying hundreds of eggs on almost anything, whether a plant, a car, or even the side of buildings. 

Their sheer volume means they can easily outnumber native insect species, overwhelm local ecosystems, and become a plain old nuisance for humans. 

4. Spongy Moth

A spongy moth caterpillar with its characteristic blue and red dots.

  • Scientific Name: Lymantria dispar
  • Native to: Europe

Formerly known as the European gypsy moth, the spongy moth is perhaps one of the most infamous invasive insect species. 

As a caterpillar, the moth looks fuzzy and has two lines of dots running down its back; there are six groups of red spots and five groups of blue. 

As adults, their light brown or beige wings are decorated with dark brown markings. 

The spongy moth entered the US during the 19th century when humans attempted to breed a better silkworm. This not only backfired, but it also created a new threat to the entire nation.

Environmental Impact

If there were ever a very hungry caterpillar, it would be the spongy moth; its appetite is seemingly never ending. These pests feast on the leaves of hundreds of plant species, causing significant deforestation. 

They also leave plants vulnerable to disease and other pest infestations. 

5. Emerald Ash Borer

An adult emerald ash borer sits atop a leaf. Photo via US Department of Agriculture

  • Scientific Name: Agrilus planipennis
  • Native to: Asia (Russia, China, Japan, Korea)

The emerald ash borer (EAB) is a small, metallic green beetle that first appeared in the US sometime during the 1990s. Like other pests, it likely entered via wooden packing material shipments. 

Environmental Impact

As its name reveals, the EAB targets ash trees. Its larvae feed on the ash tree’s inner bark, which disrupts the tree’s ability to transport the nutrients and water it needs to survive. Eventually, the EAB can kill the trees, even large and old ones. 

6. Red Imported Fire Ant

A group of red fire worker ants.

  • Scientific Name: Solenopsis invicta
  • Native to: South America (Brazil, Argentina)

Red imported fire ants (RIFA) are small, red, and aggressive. They’re known for their painful stings and notorious impact on humans and livestock. These little ants are smart, just like other species, and work in colonies. 

They entered the US around the 1930s through contaminated soil and have since spread worldwide. 

Environmental Impact

The massive mounds that red imported fire ants create can damage agricultural equipment and hurt livestock. Their noxious sting can easily be directed at humans, sometimes causing large pustules that can scar if they become infected.

As if that weren’t bad enough, RIFAs also clog irrigation lines and can even short-circuit electrical systems. Their interference with native wildlife means they pose a threat to several industries. 

7. Africanized Honey Bees

An adult honey bee soars toward an attractive flower.

  • Scientific Name: Apis mellifera scutellata
  • Native to: Brazil

Despite their name, Africanized honey bees actually originated in South and Central America. They result from an attempt to create a hybrid between European and African honey bee subspecies to increase honey production. 

These bees were accidentally released in Brazil during the 1950s. 

The problem with Africanized honey bees is twofold: they’re highly defensive and look almost identical to native honey bees, making them nearly impossible to identify with the naked eye. The bees are so prone to aggression, in fact, that they’re often referred to as “killer bees.”

Environmental Impact

The Africanized honey bee’s defensive nature and aggression allow them to easily best other local bees when competing for space and resources. They also cause native bee populations to become more defensive themselves. 

That means more stinging bees and risk for people with bee allergies or a limited ability to escape bee attacks. Plus, these bees disrupt local colonies, beekeepers, and honey and wax production. 

Tips for Managing Invasive Species

If you spot an insect from this list, it’s time to shift into invasive species management mode. Below are some tips that can help you react quickly and effectively.

  • Remove the bugs. If possible, remove the insects (by digging, pruning, using herbicides, etc.) or kill the bugs you can see.
  • Outnumber the bugs. Introducing natural enemies to the area can help reduce populations of certain insects.
  • Replant affected crops. Don’t be afraid to replant native seeds or species in affected areas.
  • Report the sighting. You may be able to alert local authorities to your discovery by submitting a report online. 
  • Contact the pros. Reaching out to pest control professionals allows you to get expert advice on what to do about the bugs and how to keep them contained.

How to Prevent the Transportation of Invasive Species

The best way to manage invasive species is by preventing them from arriving in the first place. Do what you can to be educated about and aware of invasive species in your area, especially if you plan to travel. 

Know what to look for as you explore different areas of the country and world. Try to educate those around you, too, as public awareness is one of our best weapons against invasive species.

Take extra time to sanitize and examine any work equipment, luggage, vehicles, or anything else that may have been exposed to outside species. And, above all else, keep your eyes open. Most invasive species travel because humans (accidentally or not) allow them to. But if humans create invasive species problems, we can solve them, too. 

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