As spotted lanternflies spread, some influencers are going viral by catching or killing them

An elevator bug is the latest social media star.

The spotted lanternfly — an invasive insect that sucks nutrients from plants and threatens the country’s grape, orchard and logging industries — is having a moment. And so do people who come up with creative and unconventional ways to kill the harmful pests. Videos on TikTok of people killing or catching the bugs, many posted in recent months, have racked up more than 143 million views.

But what started as an informational social media campaign called “See it? Squeeze it!” – conducted by state and local park departments to advocate for commoners to participate in eradicating the plant-hopping insect – has begun to collide with other internet phenomena, particularly ASMR – a brain-twitching sensation caused in some people by certain videos and bits of audio, which have generated its own internet subgenre of creators.

“There are people who just find it strangely satisfying, and I get it,” said Liv Volker, who is known as the first influencer of the spotted lanternfly and has received more than 7 million likes on her TikTok account that she dedicated to the kill the insects.

Volker, who regularly adds an ASMR tag to her videos, popularized the “bottle method” for catching spotted lanternflies, using the pressure vacuum of a squeezed-out empty water bottle to suck up the pests.

“There are times when it’s just really soothing and rhythmic to watch them go into the bottle,” she added.

Volker’s bottle method is just one approach. For others, a handheld vacuum was the means of catching. Viewers can watch dozens of spotted lanternflies being slurped into a vacuum in seconds.

Briana Vazquez posted the vacuum video on TikTok with the hashtag ASMR and had nearly 2 million views within a week.

“ASMR is this sensory thing, and people are constantly looking for new sounds to de-stress,” she said.

In addition to ASMR, social media users have attempted to kill lantern flies with homemade chemical concoctions and DIY tree nets, with many videos garnering millions of views.

The bug phenomenon has carved out more than just a corner of TikTok and the ASMR world. The spotted lanternfly has been trending on Twitter several times in recent weeks, as users share their mixed experiences of crushing the invasive species.

The videos are a welcome addition to experts who have been trying to raise public awareness about lanternflies.

Scientists at Pennsylvania State University predicted that the damage done by an unchecked lanternfly invasion could remove $554 million and nearly 5,000 jobs from Pennsylvania’s economy in just one year. Homeowners can be forced to pay thousands of dollars to eradicate the pests from the exterior of their homes.

“We’re very concerned that they might show up in grape growing areas in California, Oregon and Washington state,” said Julie Urban, an associate professor of research at Pennsylvania State University. “If it settled in those areas, that would be very bad.”

The advocacy and awareness generated during this viral moment are the keys to detecting and stopping the spread before it’s too late, Urban said.

First discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014, the China-spotted lanternfly is a well-known hitchhiker. Assuming the insect arrived in America with a load of rock, it usually spreads by discreetly attaching its laid eggs to vehicles, wood, or shipping equipment.

Currently, the bug lives in 14 states, mostly in the Northeast, and feeds on more than 70 plant species, according to the Department of Agriculture.

And aside from the agricultural impact, Urban warned, the black, sooty, mold-like substance the bug secretes could wreak havoc on home property values ​​by permanently damaging the household’s exterior.

Still, many scientists warn that the spotted lanternfly’s most profound effects are yet to come.

The lanternfly laying season begins in September, and while most adult insects will die on the first freeze, a majority of the eggs will survive, and they may remain viable until the following July.

Common practice for conservationists during the laying season is to scrape away the egg masses with a metal spatula-like tool.

Vazquez said she already plans to use egg scraping to make more videos.

“With winter comes egg scraping, the new seasonal ASMR,” she said.