Spotted lanterns love grapes. This worries the vineyards of NJ.

About three years ago, Mike Beneduce Jr. noticed an insect he had never seen before flying among the vines at Beneduce Vineyards, where he is Vineyard Manager and Winemaker. The insect was unique, with mottled wings and red, black and white spots. Soon after, he observed the insect on the vines on the farm’s 20-plus acres.

“No one really knew anything at the time except that they like grapes,” Beneduce told NJ Advance Media.

After speaking with other farm owners in the Hunterdon County area where Beneduce Vineyards is located, he learned to identify the insect as the spotted lantern fly, an invasive species that caused headaches to farmers. of Pennsylvania in recent years.

This September 2019 file photo shows an adult spotted lantern at a vineyard in Kutztown, Pennsylvania.PA

Native to China, India and Vietnam, the spotted lantern fly first appeared in Berks County, Pa., in 2014. It eats the sap of plants and trees, leaving behind a sweet liquid called honeydew that encourages fungal growth on weakened plants. Lanterns are known to invade towns in Pennsylvania by the hundreds of thousands. They were first confirmed in New Jersey in 2018. Since then, infestations have been found in 20 of the state’s 21 counties, according to a map of confirmed spotted lantern locations.

News of the spotted lantern fly‘s spread portends winemakers like Beneduce, who has heard a few nightmarish scenarios emerge from Pennsylvania vineyards.

“They were sort of ground zero for this thing, where they just didn’t know what it was or how to deal with it or anything. They were so weak that the vines died in the winter, and that’s a huge economic loss, ”he said.

Vineyards are like orchards in that they rely on perennial crops which, unlike annual crops, do not need to be replanted each year. Vineyard owners expect their vines to have a lifespan of 40 or 50 years, explained Beneduce, “so when you lose a plant like that, it costs a lot to bring it back into production.”

Last year, Beneduce said the vineyard saw spotted lanterns “in much higher quantities than in 2019 – enough for us certainly”.

He began to consult researchers at the time Extension of the Rutgers cooperative and Cornell University, who conducted experiments and studies on his vineyard to learn more about the spotted lantern fly. The work is in progress, but has resulted in a few recommendations for defense against the pest – namely insecticides at the right time.

“We never like to spray insecticides in our vineyard unless absolutely necessary, just because it’s not good for the environment, but last year was sort of a matter of choice: managing with timely insecticide sprays or letting them consume your crop, which obviously was not an option for a commercial grower. It’s tricky, ”said Beneduce.

Nick Sharko, winemaker at Alba Vineyard in Milford, said he has been navigating the delicate management of the spotted lantern fly for several years now. The winery is located in the village of Finesville in Warren County, a short drive from Bucks County, Pa., Which means the spotted lantern was a familiar enemy of Sharko long before it moved to east to other farms in NJ.

Alba vineyards

Alba Vineyard, located in County Warren, has been fighting the spotted lantern fly for several years now.

“It’s new to you guys in eastern New Jersey, but it’s actually been here for a while,” Sharko told NJ Advance Media.

Like Beneduce, Sharko said his vineyard saw an influx of spotted lanterns last year, while 2021 proved a bit more tame. He usually tries to schedule insecticide spraying right after harvest and has so far avoided “catastrophic problems”, but he still notices a few vines that have been affected by the invading insect.

“It weakens the overall health of the vine and I noticed we got it where they were really bad,” he said.

While the pest has yet to be found at Ventimiglia Vineyard, a winery in the Township of Wantage in Sussex County, Anthony Ventimiglia said it was only a matter of time before the Spotted Lantern did. encroaches on its cultures.

“Based on my past experiences with invasive insects – we’ve had the emerald ash borer here for over a decade – I think by next summer we will be waving the white flag and looking forward to our vineyards and orchards are decimated, ”he said. NJ Advance Media.

Dr Amanda Tokash-Peters, assistant professor of biology at Centenary University in Hackettstown, is currently researching the spotted lantern fly with the aim of finding methods to control the spread of the pest and crop killer.

Spotted Lantern at Basking Ridge

Spotted Lanterns move slowly over a tree in October at Mountain Park in Basking Ridge. Tuesday October 26, 2021.Patti Sapone | Advanced NJ Media

“I have seen very high ratios, in some cases myself firsthand. We’ve had a really, really great abundance of lanterns in the apple orchards and vineyards, which is obviously a little heartbreaking, ”Tokash-Peters said.

Right now, she said the best way to protect the vineyards we love so much (not to mention the other 69 lantern-spotted plant species are known to feed) is simple – “keep an eye out for spotted lanterns and kill them as soon as you see them.” “

She urges New Jersey residents to get creative with their “crusade to kill lantern flies,” noting public awareness that a “lantern fly pub crawl” held last month in Bordentown City brought to the problem.

Tokash-Peters regularly posts advice on her Twitter and Instagram Explain what to do if you encounter an invasive insect, such as the spotted lantern fly. also has some tips on how to exterminate the bug if you encounter it.

At present, the spotted lantern is in the adult stage and has almost finished laying its egg masses. Although it cannot survive the winter, the insect’s egg masses can and produce around 30 to 50 nymphs which hatch in the spring.

By Jackie Roman |  NJ Advance Media for

The spotted lanterns, on the left, create these mud-like egg masses, on the right, which residents can scratch to destroy. (By Jackie Roman | NJ Advance Media for

“Keep an eye out for these if you see them and make sure to remove and destroy them.” That way we can prevent, in a given egg mass, about 50 more lanterns next season, ”Tokash-Peters said.

You can learn to identify the spotted lantern, in all its forms, on the NJDA website.

Sightings of spotted lanterns can be reported via a dedicated website, by email at [email protected] or by phone at (833) 422-3284.

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Jackie Roman can be reached at [email protected].

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