Spotting the Spotted Lanternfly Egg

Since it was first detected in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 2014, the spotted lanternfly has become the focus of gardeners’ ire — and the target of many stomping feet — with the coming of every recent spring and summer. The invasive species has spread to at least seven states in the mid-Atlantic and shows no signs of stopping. A new research collaboration between the College of Engineering and the Academy of Natural Sciences is trying to help.

With temperatures cooling, most adult lanternflies will die off, leaving behind egg clusters that will begin the life cycle anew next spring.

“It’s likely that lanternflies came to the United States as egg clusters attached to some kind of cargo. Now, they can be laid in places that are dangerous for people to look for them, like under cars or trains,” explains Maureen Tang, PhD, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering and one of the project’s lead researchers. Computer vision coupled with machine learning is being explored to identify the egg masses in those hard-to-reach places.

“By teaching computers what the eggs look like, we can identify and eliminate them more efficiently, hopefully stopping the spread.”

Drexel researchers have previously used similar techniques to identify cracks and defects in infrastructure and manufacturing.

“Our approach in this project is to leverage our laboratory and computational capabilities in image collection and processing to determine the most efficient ways to quickly and reliably detect egg masses,” says Antonios Kontsos, PhD, associate professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics and another project leader. “I am excited about this opportunity because the project aligns with my group’s expertise, but its broader societal impact is quite different from what our research has been used for so far.”

“By teaching computers what the eggs look like, we can identify and eliminate them more efficiently, hopefully stopping the spread.”
Maureen Tang

Anyone can contribute to the project by taking photos of a surface with egg masses and uploading to a Shared Photos album. Participants are also encouraged to squish the eggs after the pictures are taken.

“We hope that lots of people are inspired by the lanternfly issue and participate in the project,” Tang says. “The more photos that are uploaded, the more accurately our automated detection and classification algorithms could be trained, and the more effectively we can start to identify and eliminate the eggs, stopping the spread before it gets worse.”

For more information on the project and to participate, visit the Academy of Natural Sciences website.