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See a Spotted Lanternfly? Meet the NJ Teen Behind the Perfect Squish

Milan Zhu, 13, is a rising eighth-grade New Jersey student who studied the best way to take aim at the invasive species Spotted Lanternfly

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One New Jersey teenager has taken the Spotted Lanternfly problem into her own hands, or feet, rather.

The 13-year-old burgeoning field scientist is fighting off the beautifully vibrant yet dangerous bug, currently raising alarms in New Jersey and New York, and she says to go directly for the head.

Milan Zhu, about to enter eighth grade at Rafael de J. Cordero elementary school in Jersey City, is among many in the tri-state to spot the troublesome bug in recent weeks. Her first encounter was close to home, just outside her apartment window in fact, after the insect managed to climb up nearly 30 floors to invade her home.

"I live in an apartment building that's just infested with them -- they're everywhere," said Zhu to NBC New York.

After repeated crushing, this teen started investigating the pests under a microscope given to her by the school's science department. Zhu noticed the top and border of the wings were covered by microscopic hair-like structures called setae.

Credit: Milan Zhu

The teen scientist later hypothesized these bristle structures are used for sensing predators by monitoring wind speed and pressure, which lets the bug know exactly when to leap out of harm's way. Zhu realized the most productive way to effectively stomp out the critter is to go head first and avoid contact with the wings and setae.

"When people step on the wings, [the Spotted Lanternfly] can track that you're there and know when to fly away. When you step on the head, they have eyes that know when to evade, but they don't know that you're actually on top of them," noted Zhu, who tested this head-on squashing technique with her family.

Out of 50 attempted squishes from the side and back, only 20 lanternflies were killed. When attacking at the head-first approach, 42 out of the 50 hits were successful at ridding the plant hoppers.

While stepping on these bugs will only make a dent in the growing problem, Zhu hopes to spread the word on how communities can better exterminate these pesky inhabitants by saying "the head way is the best way."

The Spotted Lanternfly arrived in Pennsylvania around 2014 by possibly hitching a ride from a stone shipment coming in from China, according to the New York State Dept. of Agriculture. The bug was first seen two years ago in Staten Island, N.Y. and has been spreading further into Long Island and Rockland County.

The species feeds on over 70 plant species including grapevine, which could be devastating to the economy and agriculture. The New York wine industry brings in over $6.65 billion in economic benefits, based on the New York Wine and Grape Foundation.

Looking at the upcoming N.Y. state budget, Sen. Chuck Schumer is pushing for an extra $22 million in addition to $200 million already in the hands of the federal Department of Agriculture to contain the Spotted Lanternfly.

Besides stepping on the pests, there are additional actions to take against the pests. The Montgomery Township in Somerset County listed a few, such as spraying vinegar, vacuuming critters and setting milkweed bait.

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