Spotted lanternfly spreading
Spotted lanternfly has been sighted throughout the area. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Spotted Lanternfly has been sighted throughout the area. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
The Spotted Lanternfly is getting ready to lay eggs. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Why is everyone so worried about that pretty polka-dot planthopper?
And if the bug is so dangerous, what can be done to stop it from spreading its wings throughout the state?
Those are two of the queries the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture fielded during a recent Facebook Live question and answer on the spotted lanternfly — an invasive pest native to Southeast Asia. The bug first appeared in Berks County in 2014, according to Penn State Extension, but has since spread to multiple counties.
The event featured a panel of three experts: Leo Donovall, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; Dr. Dennis Calvin, associate dean and director of special programs at Penn State and Dana Rhodes, a Pennsylvania State Plant regulatory official. It was led by Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Communications Director Casey Smith. Participants submitted their questions for the panelists using the hashtag #BadBugLive.
Smith kick-started the discussion, asking panelists, “Why is this bug so bad?”
The three authorities’ answers all pointed to the lantern flies’ destructive potential, especially to the state’s hops, grapes, apples and hardwoods industries — which carry a combined worth of $18 billion. The pest also has a large host range; it can attack over 65 different plants.
“Those are jobs for Pennsylvanians,” Rhodes said. “It’s their livelihood.”
Four offices dedicated to lanternfly containment have been set up in Pennsylvania, Donovall noted. A total of 22 states are surveying for the bug, and public awareness is higher than ever.
“I think we are making some good progress,” he said.
A call center for spotted lanternfly sightings has received about 15,000 calls since it was set up last year, Calvin added.
When asked what people can do to stop the bug’s spread, Rhodes simply replied, “what you can.” That could mean having your property treated for the lanternfly, or educating your neighbors about its dangers.
Pennsylvania is not the only state struggling with the spotted pest. Eight counties in New Jersey, one in Virginia and one in Delaware are also under lanternfly quarantine. But even with its wide spread, the coalition’s goal, Rhodes said, is still to eliminate the bug entirely.
“I’m not giving up on eradication,” she said.
Fighting the spread of lanternfly
The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to target commonly known “Trees of Heaven,” or Ailanthus trees, which are thought to be part of the spotted lantern flies’ life cycle, Louise Bugbee, of USDA, said at recent council meetings in Palmerton and Towamensing.
Bugbee has attended multiple municipal meetings, armed with a release that — if signed by local officials — would allow USDA to use an herbicide or insecticide on local Ailanthus trees. The hope is to contain the infestation within the 14-county quarantine, which includes Carbon, Lehigh, Schuylkill, Monroe and Bucks counties.
“Everybody that has Ailanthus trees should be doing something to control them,” Bugbee said at the Towamensing board of supervisors meeting in June.
Homeowners may also be eligible for the treatment, as long as they sign the release.
“To help to prevent further dispersal of this invasive insect, we need to treat the host trees on public and private property,” Tammy L. Craig, supervisory plant protection and quarantine officer for the USDA office in Easton penned in a letter to homeowners within the quarantine area earlier this year. “Your cooperation is being asked to aid us in this effort by consenting to have the host trees on your property treated.”
How trees are treated would depend on size. If the trunk measures less than 6 inches in diameter, it will be treated with an herbicide called triclopyr. For larger trees, USDA intends to use dinotefuran, an insecticide.
And that is not the only potential remedy for combating the spotted lanternfly population in Pennsylvania. In May, researchers from Cornell University published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America about Batkoa major, a naturally occurring fungus that kills lantern flies, fastening their carcasses to the tree on which they died.
Pennsylvanians are asked to continue reporting spotted lanternfly sightings to the state’s department of agriculture. Rhodes noted that not every report will be met with an immediate response; they are entered into a database, so USDA might reach out at a later date to offer tree treatment as funding becomes available.
“If USDA or PDA (Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture) knock on your door, answer the call,” she said.