Spotted lanternfly hot topic at PSU-hosted Open House

Photo courtesy Penn State Extension – Pictured above are the various life stages of the spotted lanternfly.
Brian Stockman
Staff Writer

The Penn State Extension Elk County Office held an Open House Thursday, Sept. 6 at its office in Ridgway. Many topics were discussed and presentations made, but the number one topic, especially among farmers and landowners, was the threat posed by the spotted lanternfly.  While it has not yet been formally identified in Elk County, Cheri Micale, Penn State Extension office manager, fears it is only a matter of time. 
"It probably has already arrived this summer to the region," she said. 
The spotted lanternfly, a brightly colored red and black moth-like insect, is the latest insect invader of the Commonwealth. It landed in Pennsylvania’s Berks County sometime in 2012 and has munched its way across 13 counties, threatening grapes, orchards and hardwood trees. State and federal officials want to stop it, and they’ve spent about $20 million this year on research and eradication efforts.
“We’ll go in with all of our force to try to eliminate that population before it can expand further and impact other businesses and industries outside of the region,” said Leo Donovall, the spotted lanternfly program director in Pennsylvania for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “The ultimate goal is that we can potentially shrink this population down to the point where it is manageable or even potentially to eradicate it.”
Donovall helped identify the pest when it was first discovered in Berks County in 2014. He says in 2016, the lantern fly infestation covered about 174 square miles. By the end of 2017, more than 3,000 square miles in southeastern Pennsylvania had spotted lanternflies, primarily in Berks, Montgomery, Northampton and Lehigh counties. The USDA hired about 100 people this summer and spent $17.5 million to stop its spread. The federal government is working with the state Department of Agriculture as well as Penn State’s extension service on research projects and public education. 
Spotted lanternflies are a highly invasive species that threaten plants, including fruit and hardwood trees. Rick Roush, dean of Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences takes an even dimmer view.
“The spotted lanternfly is potentially the worst insect pest to the [Northeast U.S.] since the gypsy moth [arrived] nearly 150 years ago,” he wrote in an email. “Worse even than the Emerald Ash borer, currently eradicating ash trees, because of the even broader potential for damage to agriculture and forestry products, impacts on species diversity, and recreational use of the outdoors."
The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, through it's Elk County Chapter, said an estimated $18 billion to $20 billion, or more, of industry in the state, could be affected. The greatest fear is the bug’s impact on grapes and the wine industry.
In addition to weakening trees by feeding on them as nymphs, the adult lanternflies do even more damage. They excrete a sticky sweet substance called honey dew after they eat, which covers leaves and bark. That substance attracts black sooty mold, which grows on the tree, preventing photosynthesis.
The adult spotted lanternflies love to feast on an invasive plant species – the ailanthus tree, which came to the U.S. from China more than two hundred years ago. The ailanthus tree, or “Tree of Heaven,” is now a ubiquitous urban weed tree.
Officials are happy that the spotted lanternfly could end up killing off invasive ailanthus trees, and researchers are working on projects that use the ailanthus tree to trap the pest as part of its eradication program. The USDA is sending researchers to China to find out more about the bug’s habits and life cycle. Meanwhile, 13 counties in southeastern Pennsylvania are under a quarantine, meaning that any business that might transport plants or produce infected with the bug has to do online training and carry a permit if they travel outside of the quarantine area.
Spotted lanternfly is a destructive invasive pest, threatening agricultural, timber, and ornamental industries, and the plants in your backyard.
If you find the spotted lanternfly outside the quarantine zone, report it to the PennState Extension Office or call 1-888-4BAD-FLY.