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Spotted lanternflies continue to threaten area

Six years after they were first reported near Reading, spotted lanternfly are well-known to most residents of Eastern Pennsylvania. Most school-aged kids know to smash the invasive species when they see them.

But depending on where you live, they can range from a minor nuisance to a major headache.

They have the potential to devastate agricultural sectors like orchards, vineyards and farms which grow ingredients used to make beer.

“If you’re where they are, they are such an incredible nuisance. And if they’re affecting your livelihood, like vineyard owners, they’re devastating,” said Shannon Powers of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

The bugs don’t fly far, so their best mode of transportation is humans and their vehicles. That’s why the state has focused its prevention efforts on vehicle traffic around the state, and encouraging people to report the bugs when they see them.

Pennsylvania is still the epicenter of the invasive species, and the number of sightings reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture continues to increase. From January-July the Department of Agriculture received 41,329 reported sightings of spotted lanternfly statewide, an increase of 147% over the same period last year. However there are a lot of false reports, particularly outside the quarantine area, according to Shannon Powers of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Naturalists say they have noticed more of the bugs in Carbon County this year, and expect increases to continue.

“I would say Carbon County will be worse than last year, and I’m sure folks are starting to notice adults around,” said Chad Schwartz, Director of Science and Education at Lehigh Gap Nature Center.

Carbon County has been lucky compared to some counties to the south. Through July 31, the state received 102 reports of spotted lanternfly in Carbon County. Northampton had 1,117. Lehigh had 518, Schuylkill had 186, and Monroe had 96. Philadelphia led in reporting with 9,462.

Pest control companies say lanternfly treatments are much more common in the Lehigh Valley than areas to the north.

“Usually a customer calls and says we’re fully infested, to the point we can’t see the tree anymore. That hasn’t happened in our area yet,” said Mollie Kennedy of Seitz Brothers in Tamaqua.

Dealing with lanternfly

Killing adult lanternfly and nymphs helps to prevent them from reproducing and spreading to new areas. It’s also effective to destroy their egg masses on trees during winter, but they are harder to identify.

“For 30 years we’ve been telling kids every bug is important, you shouldn’t kill them because they all have their job, but this is one of those cases where that goes out the window because they do create damage,” said Franklin Klock of Carbon County Environmental Education Center.

In areas where they’re more inundated, people deploy traps to try to get a large number of adults and nymphs at one time. Sticky bands are the most common, but they aren’t a perfect solution.

The sticky bands catch the lanternfly as they climb a tree trunk. Working in wildlife rehabilitation, Klock has seen stuck bugs become a target for birds, bats and squirrels, who become stuck themselves and risk injury while trying to escape.

The sticky bands can be made safer by cutting them into thirds, and by using mesh netting to prevent larger animals from becoming stuck.

There is another effective trap called a circle or funnel trap which can be made using items found around the house and at a local hardware store.

Seitz Bros. Pest Control uses a systemic pesticide on trees under attack by lanternfly. The treatment will slowly kill bugs that feed on the tree, and ideally prevent it from suffering more extensive damage.

“We can really just help eliminate, and help not kill off a nice tree on your property,” Kennedy said.

Removing the tree of heaven can take away food and shelter from the spotted lanternfly nymphs - but if done incorrectly, it can result in the tree growing back in greater numbers.

The invasive plant can be found along roads, and resembles a sumac tree. When a branch is broken, it smells like “rotting peanut butter,” Schwartz said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture removes trees in some public areas and adjacent to vineyards, orchards and other hard-hit agricultural areas. They do not treat residential properties.

Reporting spotted lanternfly sightings helps researchers understand how they move. In Pennsylvania, the best way to report is by calling 1-888-4-BAD-BUG or visiting extension.psu.edu/have-you-seen-a-spotted-lanternfly.

Preventing their spread

Spotted lanternfly don’t fly very far on their own. The best way for them to travel is on vehicles, trees or landscaping materials.

Educating people about “hitchhiking” lanternfly is a key part of the Department of Agriculture’s strategy for spotted lanternfly prevention.

The state requires businesses that travel in and out of the quarantine area to get permits for their vehicles. The permit process involves educating drivers on checking their vehicles for spotted lanternfly in their different life cycles.

So far more than 1 million people have completed the training in different states and Canada.

Seitz Brothers drivers carry permits, and Klock said he obtained one in order to travel to conduct educational programs in surrounding counties.

But drivers should also be vigilant, Powers said.

“Look before you leave. Inspect your vehicle and whatever you’re transporting to make sure you aren’t taking the insects to a new home,” Powers said.

Repelling the invasion

The data from individual reports are being used to better understand how the lanternfly population spreads.

There are lots of studies underway which may yield solutions. Penn State is studying a mold which is reported to have an effect on them.

Another study is testing if spotted lanternfly can survive without their beloved “tree of heaven.” It could lead to identifying other plants for removal.

“The research is showing us new and better ways of controlling it,” Powers said.

One thing that experts warn against is introducing another invasive species to control the population. While certain praying mantises and parasitic wasps might prey on the bugs, the potential impact on other parts of the ecosystem could be worse than the spotted lanternfly were to begin with.

“Those methods of natural control can be effective but they have to be used carefully considering we all share the environment in a given area,” Powers said.

Adult spotted lanternfly swarmed a tree in Lower Towamensing Township this week. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO