Delaware Department of Agriculture keeping a cautious eye out for spotted lanternfly

DOVER — The invasive spotted lanternfly already is making an impact on western Pennsylvania this year, as 26 of the state’s 67 counties now are under quarantine, which requires businesses that move products, vehicles and other items in and out of the restricted areas to obtain a permit.

Stacey Hoffman, spokesperson for the Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA), said state officials already were watching locally for egg masses left behind by the spotted lanternfly after an unseasonably warm winter — though they also have an eye out on what is taking place in Pennsylvania.

“While we are watching Pennsylvania, it’s definitely more important for us to be watching our own counties here in Delaware,” Ms. Hoffman said. “We’re really focusing on Delaware right now.

“The spotted lanternfly hasn’t been found below Middletown and we’re hoping that remains the case. We have inspectors out now looking for egg masses. If people are out and find egg masses, they should destroy them and get them into alcohol or hand sanitizer to get rid of them.”

Originally from China, the pesky, colorful bug made its first appearance in Pennsylvania in 2014 and has been spreading since. In Delaware, the invasive pest was first found in Wilmington in fall 2017.

However, last year it gained a substantial foothold in all portions of New Castle County north of the Chesapeake, according to the DDA.

As the spotted lanternfly feeds on the tender shoots and stems of various plants they excrete a fluid called “honeydew.” This thick, sugary substance lands on other parts of the plant and can start causing mold to form.

The damage the pest does is most detrimental to fruit farmers, particularly vineyards growing grapes. In Pennsylvania, where the invasive species first showed up, wineries are among the hardest hit.

“Last year was the first year from the time that we found the spotted lanternfly the previous fall that we had to deal with them,” Ms. Hoffman said. “They had the egg masses that were in places that couldn’t be found – up real high in trees. The numbers grew in New Castle County and the quarantine got expanded.

“We just didn’t have all of the adults that laid egg masses (accounted for and) we didn’t know that.”

Earning its nickname, the “hitchhiker bug,” by its mode of travel, the insect has successfully spread throughout the region over the last few years by latching on to vehicles or riding in shipped boxes.

The state cautioned that if any members of the public see a spotted lanternfly that they should kill it immediately because of its tendency to destroy trees and agriculture.

Ms. Hoffman said the warm winter experienced in Delaware could bring the spotted lanternfly out earlier this season. The bugs leave between 50 to 70 eggs in every egg mass.

“Spotted lanternflies grow in stages,” she said. “In the next month we’ll probably see the first instars (babies), so (insect control workers) are looking for a certain number above a certain level where they hatch out. The spotted lanternfly is usually easier to notice when they get to their fourth instar because of the red (color) on their backs.”

DDA plant industries administrator Jessica Inhof told the Delaware State News last September that the public should inform the ag department should they run across a spotted lanternfly.

“As soon as you see one, you should squash it,” Ms. Inhof said. “Kill them first, then take a picture and report the sighting to the DDA to help us track them. Usually they’ll hop away from you once you approach, but it’s been found that about three hops tends to exhaust them, so afterward they’ll stop to rest and they’re easier to kill.”

For the moment, the area most at risk remains in the northern part of the state.

“We’ve had sightings south of the canal, but no confirmed populations,” said Ms. Inhof. “We had a sighting in Dover last year, but after performing a survey in the area, we determined that it was an individual that likely hitchhiked to the area rather than being part of an infestation.

“Every time we have a confirmed sighting, we perform a quarter mile survey looking for additional evidence.”

March across Pennsylvania

According to the Associated Press, the spotted lanternfly is continuing its westward march across Pennsylvania, with state agriculture officials nearly doubling the number of counties in a quarantine zone meant to limit the pest’s spread.

A dozen counties were added to the list Tuesday, including Allegheny and Beaver in western Pennsylvania, several counties in the central region and Luzerne and Columbia in the northeast. The additional counties are not “completely infested,” according to the agriculture department, but individual municipalities are battling the pest.

“It’s wreaking havoc for home and business owners; kids who just want to play outside; Pennsylvania agriculture and the economy of the state we all call home,” Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said. “Whether you think it’s your job or not, we need every Pennsylvanian to keep their eyes peeled for signs of this bad bug — to scrape every egg mass, squash every bug and report every sighting.”

First detected in the U.S. in 2014, in Pennsylvania’s Berks County, the lanternfly overran the state’s southeastern corner before spreading into New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia.

A recent Penn State study found the spotted lanternfly is costing the Pennsylvania economy about $50 million and eliminating nearly 500 jobs each year.