(NEXSTAR) — Depending on where you live, you may have had a run-in (literally, they’ve flown in 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, should you be worried?
The short answer, as you might have guessed, is yes. But you can’t exactly prepare for the lantern’s arrival either.
The spotted lanternfly is native to China and was first reported in the United States in 2014. A forester in Pennsylvania noticed the insect, pictured below, and found one in the southeastern part of its state. The virus 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.
Newcomers to this list are Michigan, North Carolina and Rhode Island. Dead lanternflies have been 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 earlier. State experts said that, given their size, the insects could have been there for a few years before being reported.
The spotted fly feasts on fruit, ornamental and woody trees, especially the tree of heaven, another invasive species native to China, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Specifically, the spotted lanternfly feeds on the sap of more than 70 different plant species, explains PennState Extension.
Shannon Powers, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, told Nexstar that spotted lanternflies will squirt this sap “like what entomologists call ‘honeydew.’ This is part of the reason insects are so destructive: honeydew can coat the leaves, like those on grape plants, and block photosynthesis, thereby stressing the plant.
This, for example, poses a threat to the wine industries in many states, such as New York and Michigan.
Even if your state hasn’t seen a spotted lanternfly yet, the USDA considers it the 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’s aided by wind, Powers says. Otherwise, it depends on its ability to hitchhike, take road trips, trailers, outdoor gear, or even human hiking. While there is no guaranteed way to stop the virus from spreading to new states and regions, finding a way to stop it in the first place can help.
This is why states already facing an infestation, such as Pennsylvania, have taken measures to limit the possibilities for the virus to travel. The Commonwealth requires certain businesses to obtain an SLF permit if they transport regulated items in or out of areas quarantined for the virus. Businesses located in areas with spotted fly populations must also obtain a permit to bring regulated items into Pennsylvania.
In the fall, spotted lanternflys are in their adult phase and are looking for areas to lay their mud-like egg masses. It is not uncommon to find these 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 egg mass in an area where the insect has already been detected, such as Pennsylvania or New York, you should destroy them. Trampling or crushing the adult insect will be enough, while the egg masses will take a little more work. You’ll even have to crush the masses and watch for them to pop – that’s how you’ll know it’s been done correctly. PennState Extension recommends scraping the egg mass into a bag or container of hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol, then discarding the bag or container.
If you find the insect or its eggs in an area where it has not yet been detected, you should at least take a photo of it first, noting where you found it. Then, if you can, 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 insect.
If allowed to spread, the spotted lanternfly “could seriously impact the nation’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 initially thought. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University recently published the results of a study showing that although the spotted lanternfly feasts on native trees like silver maple and weeping willow, thereby reducing their growth, trees are able to recover over time.
Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled a proposal aimed at combating the spread of the bug. No action has yet been taken regarding the bill.
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