From Virginia to Illinois to Massachusetts, an invasive species threatens to devastate vineyards and forests across the United States. The spotted lanternfly, a beautiful but devastating species indigenous to parts of Asia, is spreading across the country despite the best efforts from experts to halt the spread.
Brian Walsh, a horticulture expert at Penn State Extension, told Broadcast Meteorologist Geoff Cornish in an interview on AccuWeather Prime that the spotted lanternfly is excellent at spreading, both with and without the help of people.
According to Walsh, experts believe that the lanternfly was accidentally brought into the United States sometime in 2012 before being identified in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 2014. The arrival of the species, which is native to parts of Southeast Asia, triggered a quarantine in Berks County aimed at restricting the lanternfly's ability to spread.
This Sept. 19, 2019, file photo shows a spotted lanternfly at a vineyard in Kutztown, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
While that quarantine failed, states like Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania still maintain stringent quarantine rules. In Pennsylvania, fines and criminal penalties can be applied to anyone who intentionally moves the bug from one area to another. All four states require a lanternfly permit for businesses operating in quarantine areas, which helps educate the businesses on how to minimize the lanterfly's spread.
"It's not unique in being a problematic invasive [species], what's probably most unique about the spotted lanternfly is its ability to hitchhike rides," Walsh said. "It spreads pretty well naturally, but it's also able to take advantage of human transportation."
The lanternfly can lay its eggs on nearly any hard surface, including cars and campers, which allow the lanternfly to spread as far as the host vehicle is willing to take it. Experts believe that the lanternfly made its way to the United States on shipping material and spread rapidly after hatching in the spring.
Lanternfly eggs (in white) on a tree with spotted lanternflies nearby. (City of Philadelphia)
The potential economic impact of the lanternfly is vast, as the species can survive on over 70 different plants and trees known in Pennsylvania, but it is a particular threat to vineyards.
"For the grape industry, this has been very problematic, major impact. It requires a lot of additional sprays for vineyards," Walsh said. Pennsylvania's winemaking industry earns around $200 million in income each year.
The lanternfly has a vast, if spotty, territory, having been as far south as Lynchburg, Virginia, as far north as Rhode Island, and as far west as Indiana, all of which is likely due to human transportation. Earlier this year, a dead lanternfly was found in Kansas by a young boy who entered his discovery into the state fair, triggering a government investigation.
A map of identified spotted lanternfly infestations and individual reports, compiled by Cornell's College of Arts and Life Sciences.
"If this gets further south where there is no freeze in the wintertime to kill the adults off, then it's very possible that it may become instead of one lifecycle, one generation per year ... without that killing frost in the South, it's possible they will become multi-generational in a given year, so that is a major concern for states in the South," Walsh said. And farther west, Walsh identified California as a state where lanternfly spread would be particularly devastating.
Lanternflies hatch in the spring when it gets warm enough, laying their eggs shortly before the first frost. While cold weather kills the adults, the eggs they lay can survive extremely low temperatures.
If people see a lanternfly, Walsh's advice is simple: "kill it."
If living in an area where lanternfly spread is not known, Walsh says to snap a picture of the bug first. Then, try to capture it and take it to your local extension office or Department of Agriculture.
The lanternfly's ability to move a great distance during its lifetime makes estimating its population difficult for experts. It is also unclear whether the lanternfly has any natural predators in the United States.
"It is a very new insect in our environment, and we are learning, and we don't have hard and fast rules as to what will happen in our future," Walsh said.
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