Report it then kill it :: WRAL.com

A small, invasive insect that was recently identified in North Carolina could be eating away at your next happy hour. The spotted lanternfly can damage dozens of crops, including wine grapes and hops used to brew beer. The insect is native to Asia but has spread to nearly a dozen states since it was discovered on US soil in Pennsylvania eight years ago.

“This thing is going to be such a nuisance, people are going to hate it,” said North Carolina State Forest Health Professor Kelly Oten, who visited an infestation site in Kernersville, the first established presence of the pest in North Carolina.

Mottled lanterns can damage over 100 species of plants, including apples, roses and other landscape plants, but vines are especially vulnerable. Some infested vineyards have reported losing up to 90% of their crops. Oten says any surviving grapes might taste different because the insects suck carbohydrates from the plants, changing their sugar content.

Chris Jones, a researcher at North Carolina State University’s Center for Geospatial Analytics, has created a model to predict the spread of the spotted lanternfly and says the parasites could reach California’s wine country as early as 2027. Jones says the insect probably arrived in North Carolina. years before the infestation reported last week. “The biggest problem with the spotted lanternfly is that detection is really difficult until you get a large enough population,” he said.

Invasive insects also pose threats beyond agricultural yields. Mating swarms of flies in other states have disrupted weddings, wine tours and businesses. In 2020, a Chipotle restaurant in Philadelphia had to close one of its entrances for several days after hundreds of flies swarmed the exterior.

Researchers say the insects are “hitchhikers”, laying eggs and digging up items ranging from stone expeditions to camping gear traveling across state lines. Researchers say climate change could encourage the spread of invasive species, with factors such as changes in temperature and humidity giving them new opportunities to survive in new environments.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says treatments are currently underway to curb the spread of insects in North Carolina and asks residents to watch for insects and their eggs by reporting any encounters through its online reporting tool.

“Basically report it, then kill it,” advises Jones.

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