Harleysville teen invents spotted lanternfly trap

HARLEYSVILLE, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — A couple middle school students from the Philadelphia suburbs are among 30 teens selected to present in a national science competition. One of those projects tackles the obnoxious spotted lanternfly. 

Rachel Bergey and her family had tried wrapping the 80-some maple trees on their Harleysville property with those yellow sticky tape traps, but she said they found a few problems: the lanternflies didn’t always stick; other beneficial insects and even other animals got stuck on the tape; and the tape got completely covered by lanternflies.

“And when it did become full, other spotted lanternflies could climb on the backs of the other ones and just get right back up the tree and it was just like nothing was there,” Bergey explained. 

So she started watching the bugs and noticed something. 

“They want to go up and not down. Once I discovered that I was like, ‘Oh wait, I’ll create a little barrier for them,'” she said. 

“There was a lot of trial and error, almost to the point of ‘is it worth it anymore?'” 

Rachel’s mom, Rachelle, said they thought about throwing in the towel, but Rachel stuck with it. 

“One day, I was out there and I had put tinfoil around the tree and I accidentally made a little hole where the clothespin was connecting the two ends and it got through, and I’m like, ‘Ugh, it got through.’ And then I was like, ‘Wait, it got through!’ And that was basically where I got the idea,” the 14-year-old said. 

That idea is the tinfoil barrier around the tree with a tunnel that leads the lanternfly into netting, where Rachel said they tend to die within 24 hours. She said her research shows this trap catches 103 percent more lanternflies than the sticky tape and 94 percent fewer other insects.

She said this was a true research project because we don’t know much about the spotted lanternfly, so she had to observe rather than just Google.

After wins at the county level and at Drexel’s Del Val Science Fair, she’s one of just 30 students from across the country who will present at the Broadcom MASTERS Competition in Washington, D.C. next month.

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She’s applied for a patent, but acknowledges there’s a lot that needs to be done before it could be marketed. But, Bergey said, if it helps people catch and kill spotted lanternflies and save trees, it’s all worth it.

Alaina Gassler from West Grove, Chester County designed a system to help reduce blind spots on cars and is also among the 30 finalists. 

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