Crawford County residents should be vigilant to prevent the spread of a major pest that was destructive in more than a dozen Pennsylvania counties last summer.
The spotted lanternfly caused a quarantine, or restricting the movement of materials, to prevent transporting insects in 13 counties in the state in an effort to prevent the spread on the insects. The invasive insect, which is native to Asian countries, is new to the United States.
The pests reproduced quickly last year in southeastern Pennsylvania, and the insects have the potential to become a major threat to the state's agriculture and forestry industries. The issue has been so serious that Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order in December that strengthens the fight against invasive pests in the state.
“Invasive species are a growing problem for us in Pennsylvania — just as they are worldwide,” Wolf said. “When a new pest or species is introduced into an ecosystem, it disrupts the natural order, posing a threat to native species, established industries, and the quality of life of our residents."
The Department of Agriculture says the spotted lanternfly jeopardizes Pennsylvania agricultural products worth $18 billion, including apples, grapes and hardwoods. If the state cannot contain or eradicate the pest, it threatens exports to other states and countries that do not want the insect to cross their borders. Wolf proposed nearly $1.6 million in dedicated state funding to combat the spotted lanternfly as part of his fiscal year 2018-19 budget proposal.
With word of the devastating insect, officials in Crawford County are taking steps to prevent an infestation.
"We are as concerned about the spotted lanternfly as we are about other invasive pests that threaten our landscapes and economic crops," said Scott Sjolander, associate educator of managed ecosystem services at the Penn State Extension Office in Crawford County. "We are spreading the word to keep watch for egg deposits and immature life stages, as well as the adult."
They've been discovered on car fenders, playground equipment, firewood and house siding, according to Sjolander.
"Since we travel widely during the growing season and fall, it is easy to pick up a hitchhiking insect without realizing it," he said. "In the fall, egg masses are likely to be laid on smooth surfaces we thought unlikely."
The insect's favorite meal is a nuisance plant called "Tree of Heaven." Also known as Chinese sumac, stinking sumac and Tree of Hell, the tree is native to China. This rapidly growing tree can reach a height of 80 feet, with up to a 6-foot diameter trunk.
"Knowing that the spotted lanternfly has to feed on the Tree of Heaven allows for strategic targeting of the pest," Sjolander said. In order to accomplish this, anyone able to should kill about 90 percent of the Tree of Heaven on their property.
While Tree of Heaven might be the insect's favorite meal, it's far from the only plant it devours. The insects also prefer hops and walnut.
"Immature insects in their native Korea feed on at least 25 species that we use for landscape and food crops in Pennsylvania," he said. "These species include grapes, apples and stone fruits like cherries and peaches."
The spotted lanternfly is a plant-hopper, an insect with a piercing-sucking mouthpart like a soda straw, according to Sjolander.
An adult is about 1-inch long and a half-inch wide at rest. The forewing is grey with black spots and the wing tips are reticulated black blocks outlined in grey. The hind wings have contrasting patches of red and black with a white band. The legs and head are black; the abdomen is yellow with broad black bands.
"It feeds by poking through the leaf or bark tissue and feeding from the sap flow within," Sjolander said. "Adult mouthparts are tough enough to pierce tree bark, but it will not bite people or pets, nor carry disease we are aware of."
He said the immature nymphs tend to gather in numbers on plant stems and ingest enough sap that they attract bees and wasps that feed from their droppings.
"This pest could greatly impact the food crop and logging industry in Crawford County if it arrives," he said.
So far, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia and Schuylkill counties have been quarantined.
• What is being done to prevent the spread?
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Penn State University and the USDA Agricultural Pest Health Inspection Service are educating people via fliers, sampling and demonstrations, according to Sjolander.
In counties where the pest is seen and verified, growers, nurseries, landscape experts and the public are taking steps to find and eradicate the insect wherever signs such as egg masses or life stages are found, he said.
• What should local residents do if they think they find any life stage of the spotted lanternfly?
Basically, you should destroy it, Sjolander said.
"If someone sees egg masses, scrape them off, double bag them and throw them away," he said. "They can also place the eggs into alcohol or hand sanitizer to kill them."
All egg masses should be reported on the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture spotted lanternfly website at agriculture.pa.gov. Specimens of any life stage can be turned in to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Entomology Lab for verification, according to Sjolander.
"If you can't take a specimen or photograph, call the Automated Invasive Species Report Line at 1-866-253-7189 and leave a message detailing your sighting and contact information," Sjolander said.
Lorri Drumm can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.