Spotted lanternfly a real pest in Pennsylvania
The spotted lanternfly has emerged as a serious pest since the federal government confirmed its arrival in southeastern Pennsylvania five years ago. (Sept. 26)
NEWTON — Often, Mother Nature endows her “pest” creations with bright colors. Such is the case with the spotted lanternfly, an insect that is pretty to look at in its adult stage, but a growing concern to agricultural interests in all its stages of life.
First discovered in the United States seven years ago in Berks County, Pennsylvania, the sap-sucking pest has spread across much of New Jersey, southern New York and the eastern half of Pennsylvania. Sightings have also been reported in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Connecticut and Ohio.
New Jersey’s orchard and vineyard owners are on the lookout for the invasive pest, fearing that it will devastate their businesses.
Jake Hunt, owner of Windy Brow Farms, a fruit orchard near Newton, said he has been aware of the lanternfly for the past four years, but has yet to see any on his property.
“Thankfully, we have not had an emergence in our orchard,” he said Friday. “We are surrounded by 350 acres of preserved land, and that may be a help.”
Earlier this year, residents of New Jersey’s western border counties were asked to be on the lookout for egg masses and to destroy them.
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture said efforts to slow the spread of the invasive insect involve 48 federal and state employees who are conducting surveys and treatments throughout the state. A total of 924,128 acres are involved in the project, with treatments occurring on 22,328 acres across 584 properties.
Both the nymph and adult stages of life have a strong preference for agricultural plants including grapevines and maple, black walnut, birch, willow and other trees. As such, they have become an economic concern as well.
The feeding damage significantly stresses the plants, leading to decreased health and potentially death.
After hatching in mid-to-late spring, the insect goes through four instar stages before turning into an adult in early July. It is in the adult stage that the lanternfly is most visible, often seen in clumps, on trees, shrubs and vines.
The adult lanternflies, with their wings spread, appear to be a type of moth, but the insect has piercing and sucking mouthparts that allows it to drill into the phloem of a plant to feed directly on the sugary sap.
In addition to the damage from sucking sap from a plant, the insects excrete a sugary substance, called honeydew, that encourages the growth of black sooty mold.
Although the mold is not dangerous to humans, the honeydew and mold become unsightly on houses or decks.
Native to Southeast Asia, the SLF is believed to have hitchhiked to Pennsylvania attached to wooden packing crates or skids. It was first discovered in New Jersey in 2018 and in New York in 2020.
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All life stages from nymph to adult can fly, hop or drop right in or on vehicles — and can easily and quickly be spread by human activity. Eggs can be laid on piles of firewood or shipping crates or even on vehicles and be transported to new areas.
Hunt said the research being done by the state Agriculture Department and Rutgers University “is close to having something that could work” in controlling the insect.
As of now, however, the Agriculture Department is using publicity to make people aware of the insect and its potential destruction.
All municipalities have been asked to put the department’s SLF information and links on their websites.
“It will take everyone’s determination to bring this outbreak under control,” the department said in a news release last week. “When you see SLF you are encouraged to destroy them and remove egg masses from trees, plants or other surfaces.”
People are also encouraged to report sightings at www.badbug.nj.gov and click on the spotted lanternfly photo. Sightings can also be reported by emailing [email protected]
The state website offers homeowners information about controlling the pest.