'Biblical plague' hits PA
HAWLEY, PA — It sounds like the plot of a 1950s scifi movie. An invasive insect species slips into the U.S via a stone pallet through the Port of Philadelphia. It feeds on almost everything— trees, fruits, grasses—and secretes a sticky sap that attaches to people, animals, birds, cars, trucks and trains, creating an environment perfect for the spread of disease. But this is not a far-fetched film script; it’s a real-life horror story.
“What are you going to do about the spotted lanternfly invasion?” Wayne County Commissioner Brian Smith asked Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding during the Cabinet in Your Community (CIYC) event at Wallenpaupack High School on February 1. “The people in Berks County are calling it a plague of biblical proportions,” continued Smith, referring to the locust plague chronicled in the Book of Exodus.
Redding said the spotted lanternfly, native to China, India and Vietnam, was introduced to Korea, and from there is thought to have arrived in the U.S three years ago. “How many of you knew about spotted lanternfly before today?” asked Redding. Quite a few hands went up, but many belonged to government officials and agricultural cooperative staff.
Most people would not recognize a Lycorma delicatula if it landed on them, which these flying plant hoppers tend to do. “I can’t tell you how many calls, emails and letters I get a day from people in Berks County so traumatized by spotted lanternflies that they refuse to leave their homes,” said Redding, acknowledging the powerlessness experienced in the face of insect swarms destroying every green plant in their path. Smith said if the invasion is not contained soon, health, economic and social consequences will be catastrophic. When Redding agreed, Smith asked him what we can all do to stop the invaders in their tracks.
Redding said, “There are sprays readily available now to homeowners and gardeners, but they are not yet specifically labeled for lanternflies. And whenever we use pesticide sprays, we take out beneficial insects along with the pests, pollinators, for instance.”
So what can we do? According to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PADOA) website (tinyurl.com/y8enjm7a), people should learn to recognize both the adult insect and its egg masses. An adult spotted lanternfly looks like a pretty moth about one inch long and one-half inch wide, when its wings are not spread. Forewings are gray with black spots and hind wings have contrasting patches of red and black. Black head and legs provide contrast to a yellow abdomen with broad black bands.
Fresh (newly laid) egg masses have a gray coating that looks like mud. Over time, they take on a dry, cracked look. Old egg masses look like brownish seed clusters of 50 to 60 in four to seven columns, often found on the trunks of its host trees, willow and tree of heaven (another invasive species). But they can also be found on nearby smooth surfaces, including lawn furniture, stones, vehicles, and building walls.
If you spot egg masses, scrape them off the surface to which they are attached, double bag them in plastic, and throw them away. You can also use hand sanitizer or alcohol to kill them. Then report your findings on the PADOA website referenced above. If you are outside the quarantined area defined on the website and see a spotted lanternfly in any life stage, send a photo of it to Badbug@pa.gov. Remember, “If you see something, say something” is as pertinent to insect terrorists as it is to human terrorists.