Prove your humanity

By adding Allegheny and Beaver Counties, along with ten others in central PA, to the Spotted Lanternfly quarantine zone this month, Pennsylvania agricultural officials are trying to avoid the damage these planthoppers have inflicted in some parts of the state. But controlling lanternflies will take some vigilance by area businesses and residents. 

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In southeastern Pennsylvania, a war is already on against Spotted Lanternflies. News reports are rife with people who say they’re sick of seeing hundreds of the reddish wings flocking in their trees, or flying in their faces, and of sticky sap raining down in their yards, and have taken to swatting, trapping, and even vacuuming them. 

Philadelphia police have asked residents to stop calling 911 to report lanternfly sightings, with a tweet welcoming, quote..”… our new insect overlords.” 

Destroying the Egg Masses

Joking aside, egg masses of these pests have been found in central and southwestern Pennsylvania. The state Department of Agriculture has added Allegheny, Beaver, Blair, Columbia, Cumberland, Huntingdon, Juniata, Luzerne, Mifflin, Northumberland, Perry, and York to the quarantine zone, for a total of 26 Pennsylvania counties under quarantine.

The newly added counties are not completely infested, “…but rather have a few municipalities with a known infestation which led to a quarantine being placed on the entire county out of an abundance of caution,” according to a press release by the state Department of Agriculture. 

Now state officials and researchers are raising awareness on how to spot and kill the eggs before lanternflies become a costly nuisance here.

In this video, Penn State Extension’s Emelie Swackhamer demonstrates how to use a  plastic card to scrape the eggs, which look like muddy smears on the underside of a bench, into a ziplock sandwich bag that’s got rubbing alcohol in it. “As soon as the eggs come into contact with the rubbing alcohol, that will kill them,” she explains.

Each egg mass can hatch 30 to 50 lanternflies, so state agricultural officials want to get rid of as many eggs as possible. 

Right now, before the insects hatched, this is prime time,” said Shannon Powers, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. “When you’re outside cleaning up or hiking or doing whatever you’re doing on these nice warmer winter days – look for those egg masses.”

Lanternfly eggs aren’t just in trees, they can be found on outdoor equipment, furniture, and even on rocks, walls, and most concerning, cars and trucks. 

Lanternfly Permits

When adult lanternflies and egg masses attach to vehicles, they can travel long distances. That’s why under the state’s newly expanded quarantine, businesses in industries like agriculture, landscaping and trucking that move goods in and out of affected counties, need state permits, “…to help make sure that their employees are being rigorous in checking their loads and checking their vehicles,” said Powers. 

A representative from each company takes a training course online or in person, and trains other employees to identify and remove the pest. Powers said the state has already issued more than a million lanternfly permits. 

Agricultural economics professor Jayson Harper, Director of Penn State’s Fruit Research and Extension Center, and his colleagues analyzed the costs. They found that Spotted Lanternflies currently cost southeastern PA $50 million per year, and a loss of 484 jobs. 

If the pests spread statewide, “we would see a loss of probably 2800 jobs and an impact of about $325 million per year,” Harper said. “So these are significant impacts.” 

The USDA is assisting in some areas to remove one of the lanternflies favorite foods – Ailanthus, the Tree of Heaven, which is also an invasive species

Grapes Under Attack

But so far, these efforts haven’t helped the industries hardest hit by Spotted Lanternflies, like Pennsylvania’s grape growers and wine industry. “My vineyard is covered with them,” said Dean Scott, who runs a commercial vineyard that sells grapes to wineries in Kutztown, in Berks County, where Spotted Lanternflies were first identified in the U.S in 2014.

 “We literally had this year three to four hundred of these bugs per vine. So we’re talking hundreds of thousands of them,” he said.

Spotted Lanternflies on grape vines. Photo courtesy of Heather Leach / Penn State Agricultural Extension

According to Scott, he’s lost 5 to 10 percent of his vines to Spotted Lanternflies already. He won’t know the impact of last year’s lanternfly infestation until the vines bloom this season, but he fears he might lose another 10 or 20 percent this year.

But it’s not as bad as some in his area. “Other vineyards were totally destroyed in two years,” Scott said.  

When Spotted Lanternflies were attack his grape vines, Scott said he applied insecticides every few days, but the pest just kept coming back, which makes him worry if his vineyard can survive the next few years. 

Spotted Lanternflies on a grape vine. Photo courtesy of Heather Leach / Penn State Agricultural Extension

And if the bugs continue to spread, there’s concern for other wine-producing areas like Erie County, Pennsylvania, New York’s Finger Lakes, and even California.

“I don’t think the quarantine is really working,” Scott said. “You can see these bugs actually landing on the trucks, and those trucks are now going out to Ohio. So they’re going to get off the truck.”

Penn State researchers are hoping the quarantine will at least slow lanternflies down. This will give researchers  time to develop better insecticides, study the lanternflies’ connection with the Tree of Heaven, and look at whether to release a species of wasps that kill lanternflies.

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Top photo: Spotted Lanternflies have destroyed grape crops in eastern Pennsylvania counties. Photo courtesy of Erica Smyers / Penn State Agricultural Extension