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Spotted lanternflies infestations in 13 states as officials ask residents to kill bug on sight

As if murder hornets and cicadas weren’t enough, a new insect pest is threatening the U.S. – spotted lanternflies.

Agricultural officials are calling on people to squish, smash, swat or otherwise kill on sight the spotted lanternfly, an invasive species making its way west.

The multi-colored bug is known to devour nearly 70 types of fruits, trees and plants, leaving behind inch-long, putty-like egg masses and a sticky ‘honeydew’ resin often covered in toxic black mold.

Their clusters can damage trees and do tens of millions of dollars in damage to crops. 

This summer, lanternflies have been reported in at least 13 states, including New York, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Indiana, North Carolina, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

In response, state officials are resorting to insecticides, pruning infected trees and quarantining counties with known infestations. 

However, they’re asking citizens to do their part as amateur exterminators 

‘While we have crews working throughout the state to treat infestations of the spotted lanternfly, we are seeking the public’s assistance by asking anyone who sees this pest to destroy it whenever possible,’ New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher said in a statement.  

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Pictured: A spotted lanternfly at a vineyard in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. The invasive species, which originated, has been detected in at least 13 states this year

The Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is native to China but was first detected in the U.S. in 2014, in Pennsylvania’s Berks County, according to the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

It feeds on a range of fruit and trees, including maple, oak and black walnut. The tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is its preferred host and love nest.

It’s not the trees that are at greatest risk, though. ‘If allowed to spread in the United States, this pest could seriously impact the country’s grape, orchard, and logging industries,’ according to the USDA. 

Almonds, apples, blueberries, cherries, peaches, grapes, and hops are just some of the crops being threatened.  

Lanternfly clusters can damage trees and do tens of millions of damage to crops and plants

Lanternfly clusters can damage trees and do tens of millions of damage to crops and plants

In Pennsylvania alone, the pernicious pest costs the state economy about $50 million a year and eliminates nearly 500 jobs, according to a 2020 study from Penn State.  

Lanternflies can be spread great distances by unsuspecting individuals moving infested material ‘or items containing egg masses,’ according to the USDA. They also have been known to hitch rides on railcars.

Infestations are identifiable by thick clusters of the insects on tree trunks and branches. 

Infestations were found in two sites east of Cleveland on August 26,  according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. The first documented case in the state was in  October 2020 in Mingo Junction near the Pennsylvania border. 

Spotted lanternflies excrete a sugary substance called honeydew which encourages the growth of a black mold that is harmful to plants

Spotted lanternflies excrete a sugary substance called honeydew which encourages the growth of a black mold that is harmful to plants

The spotted lanternfly was first reported in Pennsylvania in 2014. This year, infestations have also been reported in New York, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Indiana, North Carolina, Rhode Island and West Virginia

The spotted lanternfly was first reported in Pennsylvania in 2014. This year, infestations have also been reported in New York, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Indiana, North Carolina, Rhode Island and West Virginia

New Jersey reported lanternflies in at least five counties on August 31, NJ.com reported, bringing the total number of counties under quarantine to 13. 

The destructive bug’s impact can be devastating: the Penn State report indicated that without an effective response, a larger statewide infestation could lead to $325 million in damages and wipe out 2,800 jobs.   

Pennsylvania’s $19 billion forest products industry is the nation’s top producer of hardwoods, the Associated Press reported in 2020.

In Pennsylvania alone, the pernicious pest costs the state economy about $50 million a year and eliminates nearly 500 jobs, according to a 2020 study from Penn State

 In Pennsylvania alone, the pernicious pest costs the state economy about $50 million a year and eliminates nearly 500 jobs, according to a 2020 study from Penn State

In response, experts are turning to insecticides, sticky traps, removing trees of heaven and quarantining areas with known lanternfly outbreaks.

In response, experts are turning to insecticides, sticky traps, removing trees of heaven and quarantining areas with known lanternfly outbreaks.

‘This thing is feeding on trees and those trees are worth a lot of money,’ study co-author Jay Harper told the AP at the time . ‘This is a call to arms.’

In New York City, the invasive plant-hopper was first discovered in July 2020. 

The NYC Parks Department  says the fly is ‘a significant threat to a wide range of agricultural crops including walnut, grapes, hops, apples, blueberries, and stone fruits.’

‘They’ll reveal those red wings — that’s how you know it’s a spotted lanternfly,’ a park ranger told ABC News. ‘If you see them, we want you to identify it — and we want you to squish it!’ 

A young girl checks the sticky tape trap for spotted lanternflies. Agricultural authorities are asking residents to kill the bugs on sight

A young girl checks the sticky tape trap for spotted lanternflies. Agricultural authorities are asking residents to kill the bugs on sight

Beyond the direct ecological impact, areas with infestations could face bans on their exports due to fears of spreading the bug, Wayne Bender, who leads the Pennsylvania Hardwoods Development Council, told the AP last year.

In response, experts are turning to insecticides, sticky traps, removing trees of heaven and quarantining areas with known lanternfly outbreaks.

Members of the public are also encouraged to inspect outdoor furniture, trailers and vehicles for these invasive bugs. 

Lanternflies, which can lay 30 to 50 eggs each time they breed in the fall, reach about an inch long at full size. Their bodies are black and yellow and, while they have gray, black, brown and red wings, they're more prone to hop than fly.

Lanternflies, which can lay 30 to 50 eggs each time they breed in the fall, reach about an inch long at full size. Their bodies are black and yellow and, while they have gray, black, brown and red wings, they’re more prone to hop than fly.

Lanternflies, which can lay 30 to 50 eggs each time they breed in the fall, reach about an inch long at full size.

Their bodies are black and yellow and, while they have gray, black, brown and red wings, they’re more prone to hop than fly.   

According to a 2019 study published in The Journal of Economic Entomology, spotted lanternfly infestations could potentially be predicted by measuring the average temperature in various regions.

The bugs preferred places where the driest quarter of the year had a temperature of between 19°F and 45°F.

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