The spotted lanternfly's flamboyant coloring and spotted wings have always reminded me of a bug dressed for a burlesque show. The two things are in no way related, but the unexpected eye-popping color and size seem slightly outlandish.
No one is laughing or cheering in Indiana this week with the official announcement that this federally regulated invasive pest has been spotted in Switzerland County, the farthest west the insect has been found.
Mid-Atlantic states such as Pennsylvania, where it the pest was first discovered in 2014, have launched aggressive citizen control campaigns. In southeast PA, spotted lanternfly has proven to be a serious pest of grapes (both cultivated and wild). Besides agricultural crops like hops, apples, peaches and other tree fruits, they move into wooded and residential areas to feed on black walnut, maples, tulip poplar and black cherry.
The bright coloring and large body combine to make it a visible invader. Still, its proclivity to lay eggs on any nearly any flat surface such as car bumpers and railroad cars also turns it into a moving threat.
University of Missouri entomologist Kevin Rice has been urging Midwest farmers to watch for the pest for several years.
"Most insects are really good moms and like to put their eggs where they can survive by eating that host," Rice told DTN in a 2020 interview. "This pest is an indiscriminate egg layer, and the transportation element threatens a potentially explosive spread."
In the recent Indiana case, a homeowner discovered larvae, photographed the pest and reported it to authorities, according to a news release from Indiana's DNR's Division of Entomology and Plant Pathology. Investigators found an infestation in a nearby woodlot and studies are still underway to determine how large the infestation is and where it might come from, as well as how to limit the spread and eradicate the population. Find details of the find at: https://content.govdelivery.com/…
Spotted lanternfly is a planthopper that originated in Asia. Adult spotted lanternfly has two sets of wings, and the underwing has a very distinct red color with spots on the outer wings. The fourth instar of the insect is bright red with black and white markings. The egg masses of this invasive insect look like a smear of mud and they can be spread by vehicle transport including recreational vehicles, cargo carriers (truck transport) and freight trains. They can also be spread through trade materials sold in infested areas that are shipped out of state including nursery stock, outdoor furniture, lumber, etc.
The spotted lanternfly prefers to feed on tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), but it has been found on more than 103 species of plants. Adult insects have piercing, sucking mouthparts and weaken the plants through feeding on them, which can make it difficult for the plant to survive the winter months. Congregating spotted lanternfly insects produce a sticky substance called "honeydew" in large quantities that over time becomes infested with sooty mold that attracts other pests.
Both the last instars and adults should be present at this time of the year. Spotted lanternflies are not known to bite or sting or attack people, pets or livestock. However, the literature doesn't indicate much about what happens if they are ingested by accidental or (yikes) adventuresome eaters.
There are state specific ways to report spotted lanternfly finds. A directory for local or state Department of Natural Resources can be found here: (https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/…)
For a good checklist in how to recognize spotted lanternfly and how to avoid spreading the pest go to:
The pest has not been found in Canada, but there concerns about proximity of some of the infestations to Ontario: https://www.invasivespeciescentre.ca/…
For more DTN writing on spotted lanternfly: https://www.dtnpf.com/…
Pamela Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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