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The spotted lanternfly poses significant danger

By Amy-Lynn Albertson

Rowan County Extension Director

The spotted lanternfly is an invasive planthopper that was first found in the U.S. in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 2014. This insect is native to northern China and spread to Korea in 2004, where it became a significant pest.

The adult spotted lanternfly is about 1 inch long and a half-inch wide. Their front wings are light gray with black spots, with wingtips patterned with lines of small black blocks. The back wings are red and black with a white band. Their bodies are yellow with black bands down the middle.

Each egg mass, laid in a row, containing 30-50 eggs, is usually covered by a waxy substance.   Beginning in late April to early May, nymphs hatch from their egg cases. A nymph passes through several immature stages. In the first stage, it is wingless and looks black with white spots. It then grows red patches in addition to the white spots. Next, it has red wing pads and a red upper body.

Nymphs cannot fly, so they hop or crawl to search for plants to feed upon. Young nymphs appear to have a more extensive host range early on, which narrows as they grow older. In the fall, adults mate and lay eggs from late September through the onset of winter.

In their native habitat, they will lay their eggs preferably on the tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), which is also an introduced invasive species of tree. The lanternfly will lay eggs upon any smooth-trunked tree, stone or vertical, smooth surface, including man-made items like vehicles, campers, yard furniture, farm equipment or other items stored outside. The lanternfly’s life expectancy is one year.

 

Trees can develop weeping wounds of sap on their trunks. Heavy infestations can cause honeydew secretions to build up at the base of the tree, blackening the soil with fungal mats around the base of the tree. The sap may attract ants, bees, hornets and wasps to feed on it. The plant may be stunted or even die.

In July 2018, spotted lanternfly was confirmed in three New Jersey counties; in September 2018, in two New York locations, as well as in Virginia. On Feb. 28, 2019, the Delaware Department of Agriculture signed emergency regulations for spotted lanternfly that has enacted a quarantine for this pest.

The spotted lanternfly has not been found in North Carolina yet, and we would like to keep it that way. Joy Goforth, plant and pest administrator for N.C. Department of Agriculture, says the adult insect’s eggs pose the most significant risk for movement because they can be laid on any outdoor hard surface.

She said any vehicle passing through states where the lanternfly has established a presence could transport its eggs or young lanternflies to North Carolina. The spotted lanternfly could quickly decimate a vineyard in less than two years.

According to a statement from the Department of Agriculture, anyone visiting states where there is a lanternfly presence should thoroughly wash and inspect their vehicles and related equipment before returning to North Carolina. Officials also cautioned to not move firewood.

The lanternfly doesn’t bite or sting humans, so it physically can’t be harmful. “If your summer travel plans include driving through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware or New Jersey … do your part to prevent bringing the pest to our state,” Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said in a release.

“This invasive pest poses a significant threat to our $91.8 billion agriculture industry.” If you think you have seen spotted lanternfly, please take a photo (and try to include a size reference such as a quarter or pen) and send it to badbug@ncagr.gov When submitting a photo please include the location of the sighting, the date, and your contact information.

For more information about the spotted lanternfly or other insect pests, please contact the Rowan County Extension Center at 704-216-8970.

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