States battling spotted lanternfly infestation
It’s small, but it’s mighty — posing a big threat to the agricultural and tourism trades on the east coast.
And it’s headed this way.
The spotted lanternfly is an invasive pest from Asia that primarily feeds on tree-of-heaven but can also feed on a wide variety of plants such as grapevine, hops, maple, walnut, fruit trees and others. It sucks the juice from fruits and sap from trees, leaving a sticky residue that attracts fungus and mold.
The sticky mess and the swarms of insects it attracts can significantly hinder outdoor activities. In Pennsylvania, where its populations are the densest, people cannot be outside without getting honeydew on their hair, clothes and other belongings.
“Our work right now focuses on informing growers and the public as much as we can,” said Eric Barrett, extension educator and assistant professor at The Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension. “We have been presenting at our farmer meetings the past two years on the potential threat.”
According to Barrett, while not a good flyer, the spotted lanternfly is a good hitch-hiker, “mainly by laying eggs on cars or firewood that gets moved to other areas of the state/country.”
The Department of Environmental Conservation in New York website describes nymphs as black with white spots and turn red before transitioning into adults. They can be seen as early as April.
Adults begin to appear in July and are approximately 1 inch long and a half inch wide at rest, with eye-catching wings. Their forewings are grayish with black spots. The lower portions of their hindwings are red with black spots and the upper portions are dark with a white stripe.
In the fall, adults lay 1-inch-long egg masses on nearly anything from tree trunks and rocks to vehicles and firewood. They are smooth and brownish-gray with a shiny, waxy coating when first laid.
With no native predator, the spotted lanternfly has flourished. They are, however, especially attracted to another non-native species, the tree-of-heaven, also known as the ailanthus, which is native to China and Taiwan. An ailanthus tree can be used as a type of living “trap” when they are treated with a systemic pesticide that the lanternfly will suck, killing them.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, tree-of-heaven was first introduced into the United States in the Philadelphia area in 1784. Immigrants later introduced the tree to the West Coast in the 1850s. It was initially valued as an urban street tree and was widely planted in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., area. From these areas, it has spread and become a common invasive plant in urban, agricultural and forested areas.
The bark of tree-of-heaven is smooth and green when young, eventually turning light brown to gray, resembling the skin of a cantaloupe. Its leaves have a central stem in which leaflets are attached on each side.
Tree-of-heaven grows almost anywhere. Besides urban areas, it is now found growing along woodland edges, roadsides, railways, fencerows and in forest openings. The tree is intolerant of shade and cannot compete under a closed forest canopy but will quickly colonize disturbed areas, taking advantage of forests defoliated by insects or impacted by wind and other disturbances.
Since the spotted lanternfly is easily transported and attacks more than just the tree-of-heaven, the public needs to be aware of its effects. Signs of infestation include sap oozing or weeping from tiny open wounds on tree trunks, which appears wet and may give off fermented odors; 1-inch-long egg masses that are brownish-gray, waxy and mud-like when new, brown and scaly when old; and massive honeydew build-up under plants, sometimes with black sooty mold.
Spotted lanternflies were first discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014 and have since been found in New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia. In New York, a dead insect was found in Delaware County in the fall of 2017. In 2018, insects were reported in Albany, Monroe, Yates and Suffolk counties. Following the reports, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Department of Agriculture and Markets (DAM) staff immediately began extensive surveys throughout the area. At this time, no additional insects have been found.
In Pennsylvania there was one report of a possible sighting from the northern Mon Valley in Washington County, but it turned out to be negative. Similar negative reports have originated from southern Allegheny, Westmoreland, and the border area of Beaver and Butler counties since August 2017.
Penn State University and Extension is leading the research efforts currently under way to answer the many questions about the insect’s biology, pesticide studies, and the ability of the insect to adapt to the environment in Pennsylvania. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) are actively treating locations where the insect has been reported. PDA is also surveying all counties in the state outside the quarantine looking for spotted lanternfly. The state has also set up a reporting hotline to Penn State Extension staff at 1-888-4BADFLY. There is also a reporting tool at extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly.
Barrett said local residents can learn about the spotted lanternfly through the Mahoning County based plant and pest clinics.
“[Residents] should be diligent when it comes to insects. If something looks really different than they have seen before, they should bring us a sample and let us know where they found it,” he said “We’ll identify the insect, whether it is a spotted lanternfly or another insect.”
Residents should also be diligent in watching for possible spotted lanternflies, Barrett said.
“When traveling to areas that are known to be infested, the public should check their vehicles and equipment. They should scrape off any egg masses to prevent accidental infestations,” he explained.
This story includes information provided in an article written by Barbara Miller, a staff writer at Observer-Reporter, a sister paper in Washington, Pa.