(NEXSTAR) – It’s hard not to be dazzled by the spotted lanternfly, with its spots and pair of bright red wings. Despite its stunning appearance, experts hope you’ll kill it.
The spotted lanternfly, though small, is invasive in the U.S. and can pose serious problems for the agriculture industries in many states.
Native to China, the spotted lanternfly was first detected in Pennsylvania in 2014. It has since spread to more than a dozen states, including three that have reported their first sightings since last year. The insect has spread largely throughout the Northeast, with detections reported in Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and West Virginia, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
New to that list are Michigan, North Carolina, and Rhode Island. Dead lanternflies were found in Michigan as early as 2018 but its first live infestation was confirmed in August 2022, as was Rhode Island’s. An infestation was confirmed in North Carolina a month early. Experts in the state said that, based on its size, the insects could have been there for a couple of years before being reported.
The spotted lanternfly feasts off of fruit, ornamental, and woody trees, especially the tree of heaven, a fellow invasive species native to China, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Specifically, the spotted lanternfly feeds on sap from over 70 different plant species, PennState Extension explains. The damage left behind can cause the plant to stress, draining its health and potentially killing it.
Some states, like Pennsylvania, have enacted quarantines, which prohibit moving the bug at any life stage and regulate moving items the insect may live on like firewood or vehicles. In Pennsylvania alone, PennState economists say the spotted lanternfly could take $324 million from the local economy if not contained.
“It’s not something we’re losing sleep over,” Brian Lesperance, vice president of Fenn Valley Vineyards in Michigan told Nexstar’s WOOD. “We’re just trying to be diligent and cognizant.”
Even if there hasn’t been a confirmed infestation in your state, most are considered at risk for being infiltrated by the spotted lanternfly. The exceptions to that are Alaska, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
That also doesn’t mean that the spotted lanternfly could travel to any of those states. It’s a hitchhiker, catching rides on vehicles, trailers, outdoor equipment, and even a hiker’s backpack. Come fall, the insect will also look for a place to lay its mud-like egg masses, and it won’t shy away from man-made surfaces like grills, lawnmowers, vehicles, or any other outdoor area.
If you find an egg mass in an area already known to have spotted lanternflies, the Department of Agriculture says you should crush the mass and scrape it off the surface. If you find an egg mass in an area where the bug hasn’t been detected, the department encourages taking a picture of it, noting the location, and reporting it to your state’s department of agriculture before killing it.
PennState Extension recommends scraping the egg mass into a bag or container of hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol, and then disposing of the bag or container. Masses scraped onto the ground can still hatch. When crushing the egg mass, make sure to evenly press it and watch for it to burst open – that’s how you know it’s been done properly.
If you find the bug in the nymph or adult stages, and you’re in an area where the bug hasn’t been detected before, PennState recommends trying to collect it in a container of hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol to kill and preserve it. If you aren’t able to catch it, experts say to try taking a picture of it. Then, report the sighting.
In areas where the bug has been detected, you can destroy the bug. To kill the spotted lanternfly, Virginia officials say to “squash, stomp, or smash it.” Traps can also be set to catch and kill the invasive bug.
The Department of Agriculture says that if allowed to spread, the spotted lanternfly “could seriously impact the country’s grape, orchard, and logging industries.” Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled a proposal to address the bug’s spread.