Spotted lanternfly concerns spur quarantine in New Castle County

DOVER — The spotted lanternfly adult is an interesting looking creature with forewings that are gray with black spots and hind wings are red with black spots.

However, while they are colorful, they are also very dangerous.

That’s because the spotted lanternfly is a destructive, invasive plant hopper that attacks many hosts including trees, shrubs, orchards, grapes and hops. The insect is detrimental to Delaware’s agricultural industry, forests and residential areas.

Established populations of the invasive spotted lanternfly were found in Odessa earlier this summer, which led the Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA) to enact a quarantine in all of New Castle County beginning in July.

So far, Kent and Sussex counties have been spared from a spotted lanternfly quarantine, which can be expanded if the DDA finds a reason to believe that the pest has moved. Due to quarantines in other states, interstate commerce will be impacted if the pest is transported out of the Delaware quarantine area.

A quarantine means that any material or object that could harbor the pest cannot be moved without taking precautions to prevent the spread. Adults can fly, hop or drop onto a vehicle – meaning that this pest can easily be transported to new areas where it can create another infestation.

“Currently, New Castle County is the only county in Delaware under quarantine for spotted lanternfly,” said Stacey Hoffman, spokeswoman for the DDA. “We had a confirmed report of a spotted lanternfly back in October of 2018 that had hitched a ride and was dead when it was found in Dover. However, we have not found the insect in Kent or Sussex counties other than that one instance.

“Occasionally, people will report a suspect spotted lanternfly outside of New Castle County, but when our environmental scientists investigate, they find the imposter insects such as boxelder bugs, stink bug nymphs, leopard moths and tiger moths.

“The Delaware Department of Agriculture has set traps in both Kent and Sussex County in locations where spotted lanternfly would be most likely to be found if they were present as part of our surveillance. To date, the farthest south that we have found the insect is in Middletown.”

If an individual does come across a spotted lanternfly, they should kill it immediately due to its tendency to kill trees and agriculture.

“We are encouraging everyone to help us battle the spotted lanternfly and slow its spread,” said Katie Bielicki, coordinator of the Delaware Spotted Lanternfly Program. “We have really shifted gears in New Castle County to a capture or destroy mentality. All spotted lanternfly should be destroyed, but if you are below the C&D Canal and find spotted lanternfly we want to know and need a specimen to confirm.”

A cause for concern

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.

“If New Castle County residents had been able to help us search for and destroy spotted lanternfly when we started asking for their help in 2018, we would have a much smaller population in 2020,” Ms. Hoffman said. “Now that we are in our third season, people are overwhelmed by having this insect invading their lives.

“They can’t enjoy time outside without having to interact with spotted lanternfly or the after-effects of its presence like the honey dew droplets and damage to their ornamental shrubs, trees and other vegetation. “

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 in the previous fall that we had to deal with them,” said Ms. Hoffman. “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.”

Hitching a ride

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.

Beginning in September, the female spotted lanternfly will lay several masses of 30 to 50 eggs wherever it chooses, especially on flat surfaces.

“The spotted lanternfly is a growing threat to Delaware agriculture and natural resources,” said Ms. Hoffman. “If you think about the exponential growth that occurs with spotted lanternfly – if one female can lay up to three egg masses a season with 30-50 eggs in each mass … that’s a lot of spotted lanternfly that will hatch out next year.

“It’s interesting when you speak with people up and down the East Coast who are battling this insect on how the public reacts. It’s the same everywhere. Initially, people do not get overly involved in finding the insect because they don’t think that they will make that much of a difference if they kill one spotted lanternfly or scrape one egg mass.

“And really, it’s because there is a small population, or they haven’t interacted with it. For the first time, we really saw an uptick in reports of nymphs this year, where before people only noticed the adult spotted lanternfly.”

DDA said that it continues to partner with USDA to conduct surveys and property assessments, while USDA oversees treatment of properties identified with tree of heaven. Through June, more than 4,000 acres had been treated in Delaware, including 20,135 trees encompassing 185 properties above the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.

Tree of heaven is necessary for the spotted lanternfly to reproduce and eliminating this invasive species helps to decrease the population of spotted lanternfly. This tree is often seen in industrial parks, along highways and railways, and in unmanaged areas or vacant lots.

“The treatment program is focused on properties that have tree of heaven present, but we know from surveying that many homeowners are finding the nymphs on other plants in their landscapes as well,” DDA Plant Industries Administrator Jessica Imhof said. “We are encouraging homeowners experiencing outbreaks of this pest to use insecticides labeled for planthoppers or leafhoppers to kill nymphs and adult spotted lanternfly.

“If homeowners don’t feel comfortable applying insecticides themselves, they can hire a commercially licensed turf and ornamental pesticide applicator to conduct treatments.”

Much like the coronavirus, Ms. Hoffman said it will take the work of everyone to help eradicate the spotted lanternfly.

“It will take everyone working together to beat this bug,” she said. “We are encouraging homeowners that have spotted lanternfly to treat using insecticides labeled for leafhoppers or planthoppers. We have a listing of products that would be suitable in killing spotted lanternfly in our Delaware Homeowner Spotted Lanternfly and Treatment Fact Sheet.

“For those areas in New Castle County and in other parts of the state who have been fortunate not to have spotted lanternfly, be on the lookout. Check your cars and your belongings to make sure spotted lanternfly are not hitching a ride with you, especially if you travel into areas known to have the insect.”

Ms. Hoffman added, “Destroy any that you see and if you find spotted lanternfly south of the C&D Canal, let the Delaware Department of Agriculture know by reporting the find to HitchHikerBug@delaware.gov. If you are in Kent or Sussex counties, we really want to see the dead insect to confirm it is spotted lanternfly.”