HUTCHINSON, Kansas – As the invasive spotted lantern wreaked havoc on the East Coast, Kansas officials were shocked to find one pinned to a student exhibit at the state fair.
The spotted lantern fly is an invasive insect that prevents plants from photosynthesizing, causing them to die, prompting health officials to suggest killing it on the spot. Kansas State Fair officials who judged 4-H entomology entries last week found that one exhibit included an invasive moth.
This sparked a federal investigation.
“We had an entomology problem,” said Gregg Hadley, board member of Fair, extension director at K-State Research and Extension Friday morning. “It was dead, but it was in a critter box.”
The Thomas County student who included the insect in a 4-H insect display box correctly identified it as a spotted lantern fly.
The student, however, said Hadley, was unaware the virus was an invasive species that has caused quarantines in at least 45 counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey in an attempt to stop its spread.
“They think it happened on a motorhome,” Hadley said.
The insect, which looks like a moth but is actually a jumping tree bug, prevents plants from photosynthesizing by depositing sticky honeydew excretions that then develop mold, causing the plants to die.
It feeds on some 70 different plant species and has spread widely since its appearance in Pennsylvania about 10 years ago. It is believed to have arrived by freight from China.
Residents of quarantine areas are advised to follow a checklist before moving vehicles or other outdoor objects out of quarantine areas to ensure they are not carrying the insect or its eggs.
One of the fair’s entomology judges knew about the insect – and the obligation to report it to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection.
This agency will conduct an investigation, trying to trace how the insect landed in northwestern Kansas, some 1,100 miles from the quarantine areas.
Hadley and Wade Weber, the State 4-H program manager, said they were unaware that a similar incident had ever taken place during fair entry in the past. Because the insect was dead, the student was allowed into the exhibit, Weber said.
The lantern fly is originally from China, and George Hamilton, head of the entomology department at Rutgers University, believes it landed in the United States via a crate from the Asian country. The good news about insects is that they can’t harm humans or pets. However, they cause massive damage to plants and are known to feed on over 70 different types of trees and plants.
“They’re really good hitchhikers,” Hamilton told USA TODAY. “Most people don’t even know they have them until the adult form comes out.”