Pennsylvania seeks help with control of invasive insect

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Stickers, headbands, tattoos and activity books drawing attention to the spotted lanternfly invaded the Pennsylvania Farm Show in January, and the Department of Agriculture fears the invasive insect could spread beyond the walls of the largest indoor agricultural show and threaten Pennsylvania’s leading agriculture products.

“The problem with the lanternfly is it feeds on 70 different kinds of trees,” said Tim Elkner, a commercial horticulture extension educator. “It likes woody trees. It likes vineyards. It likes woody plant material.”

Pennsylvania’s agriculture is a multi-billion dollar industry and leads the nation in commodities such as hardwood timber, apples, tree farms and grapes – all of which are sought by the lanternfly and the reason why it is so important to prepare now.

Tom Haas is the owner of Cherry Hill Orchards near Lancaster, just five miles from a location where the lanternfly was spotted last year. “We dealt with the stink bug and learned how to manage that,” he said. “This is going to be another challenge. We’ll need the public to help us on this one.”

The Agriculture Department is asking everyone to get involved by contacting them of any sightings as we head into the growing season, especially in areas that are not currently in the quarantined area.

“Lancaster is quarantined, but York is not, so if a viewer finds this insect in York County this year, they need to notify the Department of Agriculture so they can monitor the spread of this insect,” Elkner said.

The lanternfly is distinct, about one inch long in the adult stage, and at rest will display a gray forewing with black spots. The hind wings have patches of red and black with a white band. The eggs are a little more difficult to distinguish:

“The eggs themselves are layed in lines, not quite barrel-shaped, but they are elongated. The female lays 30 to 50 and puts a waxy coating over it,” Elkner said.

The insects native to Asia are attracted to an invasive tree in the state, which also happens to be native to Asia, known as alanthus. Nicknamed the tree of heaven, these trees are everywhere, particularly along roadsides and field edges.

There are still unknowns about the lanternfly and the link between alanthus, and if the lanternfly can be controlled by controlling the invasive trees. What the Agriculture Department knows is the insect has the potential to be much worse than the stink bug. We’re all asked to do our part by looking for this pest to help protect Pennsylvania’s agriculture.

If you spot any eggs now, or if you see a lanternfly this spring or summer, you can send a picture and report it by emailing badbug@pa.gov or calling the invasive species report line at 1-866-253-7189.

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