Pennsylvania state agricultural officials announced on Nov. 5 that a colorful flying insect has prompted quarantine in five of the 44 townships in Berks County.
Officials described the discovery of the Spotted Lanternfly during a webinar featuring several Penn State Extension Service experts.
At this point, those five townships are the only places in the U.S. in which the insect has been discovered.
The Spotted Lanternfly is about an inch long, with colorful red and white spotted wings reminiscent of a quilt, with each pair of wing segments bearing different patterns.
Sven Spichiger, Penn State entomology program manager, said during the webinar that the insect is native to China, India, Japan and Vietnam. He added that it was discovered to have traveled to Korea in 2006.
The pre-adult forms of the lanternfly attacks a large number of plant species, 25 of which also grow in Pennsylvania. Of greatest concern is the nymphs’ fondness for grapevines. While they also attack apples, peaches, pears, ornamentals hardwoods, the nymphs will kill grapevines.
“They puncture the vines to feed, and they essentially bleed out,” Spichiger said.
Pennsylvania is fifth in the nation in wine production, bringing in about $1.35 billion in sales annually, he added.
How the lanternflies got to Berks County is unclear, and will likely never be known for sure, Spichiger said. The adult lanternflies lay their egg masses in the early fall, and then die. The eggs, about 50 or 60 in each clutch, are covered with a slick gray protective coating, and are therefore difficult to spot.
The bug was first seen by Pennsylvania Game Commission employees who reported an unknown species of insect attacking trees in Berks.
Those living in the quarantine area will need to stay on their toes, said Dana Rhodes, plant inspection program specialist for the extension.
“We have quarantine, and the intent of that is to limit the distribution of the lanternfly, slow its spread and its possible eradication,” she said.
With all the plant-based industry in Pennsylvania, stopping the lanternfly will take extra attention. Fortunately, most of that means keeping one’s eyes open for: “All living life-stages of the bug, outdoor household items, crated materials, vehicles, campers, RVs, hard goods such as stone, tile, decorative materials, firewood,” she said.
Who should do this? Pretty much everybody, including loggers, landscapers, garden centers, nursery growers, hardwoods dealers, movers, haulers, construction companies and residents.
“We are not asking to change your life horribly,” Spichiger said. “If you see egg mass on your vehicles, scrape them off. We don’t want this organism to go anywhere it doesn’t need to go.”
The best disposal method it to scrape the egg cases, larvae or adults into plastic bags, seal them and throw them in the trash.
This bug is so new in this country that Pennsylvania itself chose the common name for the insect, Lycorna delicatula being awkward for the average person. Much of the research literature on the lanternfly is written in Korean, Rhodes said.
Spichiger said the lanternflies seem to have been in the Berks area for about two years. The fact that they survived last year’s long and frigid winter indicates that the climate in Pennsylvania presents no particular problems to them.
Signs of lanternfly infestation include sap flowing out of trees that have been attacked by the pre-flight larvae, sooty mold or masses of fungi growing on the leaking sap. Be careful, because some saps attract bees, yellow jackets and other stinging insects.
Vineyard owners in the area are being vigilant.
“We’re a little bit concerned,” said Brittany Harris of Vynecrest Vineyard & Winery. Vynecrest is in Berks County, but outside the quarantine area, at least so far. “The quarantine area is not far from us. We’ve just taking a wait-and-see attitude.
Agriculture Secretary George Grieg encourages all Pennsylvanians to watch for the Spotted Lanternfly and offered the following suggestions:
• If you see eggs: Scrape them off the tree or smooth surface, double bag them and throw them in the garbage or place the eggs in alcohol or hand sanitizer to kill them.
• If you collect a specimen: Turn the adult specimen or egg mass in to the department’s Entomology Lab for verification. First, place the sample in alcohol or hand sanitizer in a leak proof container.
• If you take a photo: Submit photo of adults or egg masses to email@example.com.
• If you report a site: Call the Bad Bug Hotline at 1-866-253-7189 with details of the siting and your contact information.
Greig added that while Pennsylvanians can submit suspect eggs to the department headquarters in Harrisburg or to its six regional office locations, county Penn State Extension offices are often a closer, quicker option.