Western Pennsylvania might be missing out on the sights and sounds of the Brood X cicadas, but another bug is making its presence known in the region: the spotted lanternfly. Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture officials hope their newest weapon in the state’s fight against the pest — a dog named Lucky — can help.
The two-year-old German shepherd was trained as a puppy at PennVet’s Working Dog Center to detect spotted lanternfly eggs. Lucky helps to inspect businesses like nurseries, greenhouses, vehicle fleets and log yards. She is the first dog in the nation trained to detect the spotted lanternfly.
“We try to focus on areas that [human inspectors] might not be able to get [to] real easily,” said Shane Philipps, a compliance and enforcement specialist with the Department of Agriculture and Lucky’s handler. Those areas can include truck wheel wells, piles of materials like gravel and stacks of palettes.
The dog joined the department in November last year and has inspected nurseries, greenhouses, vehicle fleets and log yards.
Lucky is one of a few tools the department is using to contain the spotted lanternfly. Others include circle traps, sticky bands and a list of insecticides. There are 34 counties under a quarantine that requires public education and spotted lanternfly containment training for businesses. Now, officials are trying everything but the kitchen sink to beat back the bug.
“Sometimes the kitchen sink works too,” joked Ruth Welliver, director of the Bureau of Plant Industry at the state Department of Agriculture. “We’re spraying bifenthrin, which is a contact spray to knock down the nymphs… we have a systemic spray… that goes in and moves inside through the tree. So only things that are feeding on the tree is killed by that chemical.”
Allegheny and Beaver counties were added to the spotted lanternfly quarantine map last year. Westmoreland County was added this year. Agriculture officials said Tuesday there may still be an opportunity to contain the pest in Pennsylvania’s west in a way officials couldn’t when the bug first arrived in Berks County in 2014.
“It’s at very low concentrations now. So if we make lots of efforts to try to control and contain it here, we can prevent its spread elsewhere,” said Rick Roush, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State University.
Roush was joined by Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Administrator Carlos Martinez and Eichenlaub Landscape Contractor president Dan Eichenlaub in Allegheny County Tuesday. They discussed the growing presence of the spotted lanternfly in Western Pennsylvania and the responsibility of all Pennsylvanians to do their part in containing the pest.
“This is a really important step for us to be able to intervene early and take advantage of the fact that the populations here are so low. To really use what we’ve learned over the last few years in the east to manage it more effectively.”
One tool to contain the spread of the spotted lanternfly is a requirement for all businesses in quarantined counties to hold a spotted lanternfly permit. The permit requires businesses to maintain a trained workforce committed to taking steps to prevent carrying the pest across state or county lines.
The permit is required and violations could result in fines up to $300. But Secretary Redding noted companies with spotted lanternfly permits are also making a wise business move.
“[Permits ensure] folks that the individuals who they’re doing business with are taking every precaution that they can,” he said. The state has created a spotted lanternfly business toolkit to help companies learn about the spotted lanternfly, whether or not they need a permit and what responsibilities come with holding a permit.
Permitted businesses should inspect incoming and outgoing goods and materials for signs of spotted lanternflies, incorporate pest control into vegetation management plans and ensure suppliers have permits and safeguards in place to prevent the spread of the pest.
“The spotted lanternfly is the worst bug in the commonwealth and capable of causing real damage to Pennsylvania’s $132.5 billion agriculture industry,” said Redding. “Over the past seven years, we’ve seen lanternfly travel from east to west in the commonwealth. We’ve seen vineyards devastated. It’s invasive environmentally, socially, and economically.”
The state Agriculture Department is working with Penn State Extension to teach residents about how to contain and manage the spotted lanternfly around their homes. Researchers are still learning about the basic biology of the bug, its feeding preferences, what economic damage it can cause and effective chemical control and detection methods.
“[The] spotted lanternfly is a complex pest, but we are making discoveries and sharing those findings as soon as we can with the public and government and industry stakeholders,” Roush said.
A 2019 economic impact study estimates that if the insect remains uncontrolled, it could cost the state $324 million annually and more than 2,800 jobs. Redding noted that the invasive species also degrades quality of life.
Areas heavily populated with spotted lanternflies are often sticky. When the bug feeds, it excretes a sugary substance called honeydew which causes a black sooty mold to form. That mold damages plants and attracts stinging insects. The substance can coat decks, outdoor furniture, play equipment and vehicles.
Spotted lanternflies kill sapling trees, sumac, grapevines and tree-of-heaven and can cause damage to a list of other tree species.
Secretary Redding pleaded Tuesday for Pennsylvania residents to learn if they live or work in a quarantined county and do their part to manage the spread of the spotted lanternfly. Residents who spot an egg mass should destroy it by scraping it into a bag with rubbing alcohol. Residents who find a nymph or adult spotted lanternfly should squash the pest.
Officials also request all sightings of the spotted lanternfly to be reported to the state Department of Agriculture. Residents can fill out a form online or call 1-888-4BADFLY (1-888-422-3359).