I want to tell you a story about an infestation.
Not only are Rutgers students faced with broken air conditioners in residence halls, inconsistent bus schedules and, of course, the delta variant of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), but also my beloved Rutgers peers, we’re currently braving a battle of grave magnitude: the plague of the spotted lantern flies (SLF).
The SLF are an invasive insect species native to China, India and Vietnam, that feed on the sap from more than 70 different plant species. They secrete a sticky substance called honeydew, which sounds kind of nice, but is actually dangerous to the conditions of the plants they feed on.
Although these scarlet, red, white and black insects match the Rutgers colors almost perfectly, don’t be fooled: The SLF are nothing short of our collective enemy on campus.
Lycorma delicatula sounds like some sexy secret — the rising and falling of the breath forming the perfect whisper to share between lovers. But friends, it's anything but that: Lycorma delicatula is the scientific name for the SLF. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this was somehow another orchestrated propaganda trick from the SLF themselves to win the hearts and minds of the New Jersey populace.
I saw infographics on Instagram warning me of this foe, and I waited for the day that I would encounter one of the life-sucking lanterns. The first time I saw an SLF was on a hot day in the middle of July. One of the sorry members of its wretched kind flew to the side of my apartment building.
Acting with all the bravado I could muster in the span of a few fateful seconds, I destroyed an SLF with a Birkenstock and a hopping motion that I would be far too embarrassed to ever repeat upon request.
My roommate stood beside me, awestruck, as I replaced the shoe on my foot like some vengeful Cinderella. I made no move to clean up the squished mess I created. Instead, I left my fallen foe’s insides on the outside of my building as a warning to all of its friends not to cross me.
Unfortunately, this move was ill-received. The member of the SLF I killed must have been an important higher-up in the SLF bureaucracy, maybe a general or something, because walking in and out of my apartment building has become nothing short of a nightmare. I can never look at one of my friends’ hair the same again after watching an SLF fly straight into it or when two SLF landed on one of my favorite pants just to taunt me.
But a few altercations here and there is nothing compared to the planned attack the SLF committed just a few days ago.
Reader, I’m shaking as I recall this memory. My roommate and I went to Trader Joe’s and returned to our apartment with the distinguishable red and brown paper bags filled with groceries. We laughed as we walked inside, recalling the time when I had taken down the SLF. I beamed at her praise, feeling the urge to put my thumb to my nose and wiggle my fingers with adolescent bully-like glee, but I refrained and felt pleased enough with marching happily inside.
Yet this joy was short-lived. Upon finishing the monotonous chore of taking groceries out of the bag and into the fridge, my roommate shrieked and looked across at me in horror. The few feet that separated me and her became a splitting chasm, dividing us into two distinct categories: she who knew and she who was on the brink of discovering what laid inside that brown and red Trader Joe’s bag.
The horrible news transmitted from her bright eyes to my open mouth. This was more than SLF buzzing around our feet: This was a full-frontal attack in our most vulnerable space. I instructed her to throw the entire paper bag (containing one jar of pesto sauce, a salsa bottle and one soldier from the opposition) into the hallway so that we could regroup.
Thankfully that damned creature is dead — and the pesto pasta that my roommate and I enjoyed in sorrow is a testament to that — but the battle scars from that moment run deep. I’m pretty sure that Trader Joe’s bag is still in my hallway.
On more than one occasion I’ve grown to call the SLF “SPF” when relaying my daring victories to my family. “SLF,” my younger sister would emphatically correct, “Not SPF.” This slip of the tongue, the swapping of summer acronyms, an accidental truth in the mistake, reveals the true extent of how much the SLF have permeated my summer affairs.
Even now, as I stare out of the window of one of the tallest buildings in New Brunswick as I write this urgent message, a few members of the SLF greet me through the window mockingly, beckoning me with their dotted wings and vicious plans.
I’ve taken matters into my own hands — well, feet — by wearing my biggest boots in the summer to crush the enemy with, and as cooler weather approaches, I urge you all not to hesitate to do the same. The best accessory to any fall bootie are the squished guts of our enemy on the bottoms and sides of the staple season shoe.
Be relentless in the fight against these winged monsters this semester. Stay vigilant, mask up to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 and stomp the SLF out.