(NEXSTAR) — Depending on where you live, you may have come face to face (literally, they have flown into people’s faces) with the spotted lanternfly. The invasive species has been detected in more than a dozen states. If it hasn’t reached yours yet, do you need to be concerned?
The short answer, as you may have guessed, is yes. But, you can’t exactly prepare for the lanternfly’s arrival either.
The spotted lanternfly is native to China and was first reported in the U.S. in 2014. A Pennsylvania forester noticed the bug, pictured below, found one in the southeastern portion of his state. The bug has since spread to at least 13 other states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture: Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Virginia, and West Virginia.
New to that list are Michigan, North Carolina, and Rhode Island. Dead lanternflies were found in Michigan as early as 2018 but its first live infestation was confirmed in August 2022, as was Rhode Island’s. An infestation was confirmed in North Carolina a month early. Experts in the state said that, based on its size, the insects could have been there for a couple of years before being reported.
The spotted lanternfly feasts off of fruit, ornamental, and woody trees, especially the tree of heaven, a fellow invasive species native to China, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Specifically, the spotted lanternfly feeds on sap from over 70 different plant species, PennState Extension explains.
Shannon Powers, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, tells Nexstar that spotted lanternflies will shoot out that sap “as what entomologists call ‘honeydew.’” It’s part of the reason why the insects are so destructive — that honeydew can coat leaves, like those on grape plants, and block photosynthesis, thereby stressing the plant.
This, for example, poses a threat to the wine industries across many states, like New York and Michigan.
Even if your state hasn’t yet seen a spotted lanternfly, the USDA considers most at risk for infiltration. Excluded are nearly a dozen states: Alaska, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
At best, the spotted lanternfly can only travel about a mile on its own, and that’s if it gets some help from the wind, Powers explains. Otherwise, it depends on its hitchhiking ability to move around, taking road trips on vehicles, trailers, outdoor equipment, or even hiking humans. While there is no guaranteed way to keep the bug from spreading into new states and regions, but keeping it from finding a ride in the first place can help.
That’s why states already facing infestation, like Pennsylvania, have taken steps to limit the bug’s travel options. The Commonwealth requires certain companies to obtain an SLF Permit it they transport regulated items within or out of areas quarantined for the bug. Companies located within areas with spotted lanternfly populations are also required to get a permit to bring regulated articles into Pennsylvania.
During fall, the spotted lanternflies are in their adult phases and are searching for areas to lay their mud-like egg masses. It’s not uncommon to find those egg masses on trees or man-made surfaces like grills, vehicles, outdoor machinery, or any other outdoor area.
If you find a spotted lanternfly or an egg mass in an area where the bug has already been detected, like Pennsylvania or New York, you should destroy them. Stomping or otherwise squishing the adult bug will do, while the egg masses take a bit more work. You’ll need to crush the masses even and watch for it to burst open — that’s how you know it’s been done properly. PennState Extension recommends scraping the egg mass into a bag or container of hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol, and then disposing of the bag or container.
If you find either the bug or its eggs in an area where it hasn’t yet been detected, you should at least take a photo of it first, noting where you found it. Then, if you’re able to, catch it in a container. PennState recommends trying to collect it in a container of hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol to kill and preserve it.
Traps can also be set to catch and kill the invasive bug.
If allowed to spread, the spotted lanternfly “could seriously impact the country’s grape, orchard, and logging industries.” However, researchers have found a promising sign — the spotted lanternfly may not be as damaging to some hardwood trees as originally thought. Pennsylvania State University researchers recently released results of a study showing that while the spotted lanternfly will feast on native trees like the silver maple and weeping willow, reducing growth, the trees are able to recover over time.
Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled a proposal to address the bug’s spread. No action has yet been taken on the bill.
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