UNIVERSITY PARK — For residents of southeastern Pennsylvania, winter provides a brief respite from the spotted lanternfly, an insect invader that has impeded their warm-weather enjoyment for the past several years.
But for scientists, extension specialists and government regulatory officials, putting a stop to the pest is a year-round endeavor.
“There is too much at stake to take a break in the battle against spotted lanternfly,” said Dennis Calvin, associate dean and director of special programs in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. “We won’t give in or give up until we have answers.”
Native to Asia, the spotted lanternfly — now confirmed in 14 Pennsylvania counties and reported in surrounding states including New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland — has an insatiable appetite for the sap of fruit and landscape trees, grape vines, and woody ornamental plants. The insect is blamed for estimated economic damages of $50.1 million per year and the loss of more than 400 jobs in the southeastern part of the state.
Penn State has joined forces with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to control and contain the spread of spotted lanternfly.
The College of Agricultural Sciences and Penn State Extension are leading the research and public outreach efforts, respectively, while the state and federal agriculture departments are focused on operations and regulatory work, which includes enforcing a state quarantine order and treating locations where the pest has been reported.
The key to finding strategies for sustainable, long-term management of the spotted lanternfly lies in understanding its biology and behavior, noted Julie Urban, research associate professor of entomology.
To that end, Urban and Penn State colleagues are working with USDA scientists and other institutions to develop biological and chemical controls and other methods to manage the pest around homes, parks, buildings, nurseries, vineyards and fruit farms.
Projects include studies on disrupting the lanternfly female reproductive cycle; testing of organic control methods such as a fungal-based spray and natural insect predators; investigations of the pest’s flight behavior, where it might travel and the conditions it needs to flourish; and research on its feeding preferences, including its penchant for tree of heaven and at-risk specialty crops such as grapes.
“There are no easy answers when it comes to the spotted lanternfly, and we understand that’s hard for people to hear,” Urban said. “Good research takes time — and funding — but we are making discoveries every day and are sharing those findings with the public and key stakeholders.”
For example, the results of Penn State research on the effectiveness of various commercial insecticides in controlling spotted lanternfly populations have been shared with growers and other stakeholders. Experiments focused on effective management techniques for homeowners also are ongoing, with updates provided on the Penn State Extension website and in printed pieces.
In addition, Penn State is part of an interdisciplinary spotted lanternfly research group made up of the USDA Agricultural Research Service, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Virginia Tech, the University of Delaware, the University of Rhode Island, Temple University, Rutgers University, Cornell University and the Northeastern IPM Center.
The team recently received a $7.3 million USDA grant and $5 million in matching investments from growers and landowners to bolster spotted lanternfly research.
Parallel efforts among all partners are focused on stopping the spread of the pest and educating the public and businesses about the actions they can take.