November 2022

The Spotted Lanternfly

Michael Bettencourt | Scene4 Magazine

Michael Bettencourt

It perched on the tip of my right shoe ("it" being a spotted lanternfly, known Linnaeusly as Lycorma delicatula). The directive from the state agency tasked with insect assassination stated that I should crush these creatures whenever and wherever I could because they were considered an "invasive species," that is, migrants setting up house in a place where those already here didn't want any new kids on their blocks.

But it sat on my shoetip. I couldn't, wouldn't, smash my own foot, so to carry out the prime directive meant I needed to shift it to the concrete where I could deal out death with a quick Vibram smash of a shoe sole.

I wiggled my toes. Nothing. SLF seemed unconcerned by its imminent demise – by anything, really, no fight or flight response, just placid on my shoe. I flexed the front part of my foot upward – it just rode the wave. I zigged my foot, then zagged it – it rode the to and the fro.

So, I studied it, this planthopper insect related to the stink bug that sucks the sap of grapes and other related plants though it prefers Ailanthus altissima, the tree of heaven, which, irony of ironies, is itself considered an invasive species. (To deepen the irony, both biological migrants originate in China.)

It bears spots, as the name states (though not technically a fly), with an outer pair of bland salmon-colored wings covering a haute couture set of stippled underwings with flashes of red, black and white.

But life moves on. I reached down and flicked it off my shoe, thus turning it into prey.

Except. Why.

Reports about the effectiveness of citizen stompery stopping the spread of SLF show a minimal impact on the spread of the species – in other words, no amount of stomping will stop its range. (Though one could imagine a universe in which citizens are willingly dragooned into believing that SLF extinction is somehow tied to their own redemption and bank accounts and they thus volunteer to hunt down every specimen until they can look up at the moon with red-rimmed eyes and say, "The last is gone!" While the overlords who ordered the killing slip quietly away with their riches.)

So, why should I stomp it? What civic virtue do I fulfill by killing a creature that has done no harm to me, who did not get to choose its fate, whose effect as an invasive species is far, far less than the damage done by the invasiveness of my own species?

But why not stomp it? Why not grant the id some pleasure while asserting my Genesis dominion over all the life that creeps upon the world? There are many who love the taste of dominion on the tongue, and who am I to say they should be denied their flavors?

Luckily for the SLF, I got distracted by my brain churning through how kill or not-kill would affect my own character, my own self-regard – the SLF saved by solecism and introspection. Being a planthopper, it did what it does best: it hopped away (despite their wings, they hop better than they fly) to live another day of feasting on sap and excreting honeydew.

I also continued on, though with far less certainty about where I would end up and what my brain would publish – and, to be honest, aware that the Vibram sole hovered just above me as always, the date of its descent unknown but certain.


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Michael Bettencourt is an essayist and a playwright.
He writes a monthly column and is
a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
Continued thanks to his "prime mate"
and wife, María-Beatriz.
For more of his columns, articles, and media,
check the Archives.

©2022 Michael Bettencourt
©2022 Publication Scene4 Magazine



and creates



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