Spotted lanterns pose a threat to Virginia vineyards and orchards


As a relatively new Virginian who grew up in Pennsylvania, I know all about the infuriating insect that is a spotted lantern fly (SLF). Whether you are in the farming areas or in downtown Allentown, the sky, buildings and ground were covered in invasive species and not a single inhabitant hesitated to trample as much as they could. When I read this morning that Virginia is officially on the hit list, I blurted out a loud, heavy, “& * $%!”

They first appeared in the United States in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 2014, the same year I left the area for Virginia for college. SLF, or Lycorma delicatula, has over 70 species of host plants and limited predators, which facilitates their rapid spread. With every vacation break I came home for, the bigger the pile got on our patio and the more my mom started to look like Rambo with her fly swatter.

“SLF is a serious invasive pest with a healthy appetite for our plants and it can be a significant nuisance, affecting the quality of life and enjoyment of the outdoors” PennState College of Agricultural Sciences indicated on their website. “If not contained, the Spotted Lantern could potentially drain Pennsylvania’s economy by at least $ 324 million a year, according to a study by Penn State economists.”

I was always relieved to come back to Virginia and remember that the infestation was not happening everywhere. But in January 2018, the pesky bug was detected in Virginia. In May of the following year, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) announced the creation of the Quarantine of spotted lanterns for the County of Frederick and the City of Winchester.

Unfortunately, their ability to lay eggs on various vehicles and trains increases their likelihood of spread. Earlier this summer, they were found in Albemarle County near train tracks near the Rivanna Trail, officially endangering the region’s grape, apple, peach and hop crops.

Training volunteers and monitoring SLF have been essential parts of the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) eradication efforts. People are invited to report sightings insect, take pictures and kill them, while scraping or crushing any egg masses found. Rubbing these egg masses with rubbing alcohol is the most effective way to make sure they don’t hatch after being scratched.

Egg masses: Photos of spotted lantern egg masses on trees. It is a gray, waxy-looking mass that can usually be found around October-June when they are laying their eggs.

Early nymph stage: photos of what spotted lanterns look like after hatching. They will remain black with white spots during this first stage of their life, usually from May to July.

Late nymph stage: Photo of more mature nymphs. The red color indicates the maturation of the insect.

Adult Stage: Photos of what spotted lanterns look like as fully mature adults. Photo of multiple spotted lanterns with their wings closed (left). Close-up photo of a spotted lantern with its wings closed (center). Close-up photo of a spotted lantern with its wings open (right).

If you’re anything like my mom and find that killing and reporting sightings of these frustrating insects isn’t enough, you can go the extra mile and order crates of praying mantis eggs to place in your garden. Mantises, along with chickens and my mother, are one of the main predators of SLF. I will never forget the time I saw a praying mantis swallow a SLF in the middle of downtown Allentown, doing its job in the same way as the bustling and bustling townspeople around. I wanted to ask him, “work hard or barely work hey bud?”

The sooner we can get people to know about SLF and what to do when we see them, the more likely we are to protect our region against them. Learn to identify, take photos, report sightings, and don’t forget to thank your local mantises for their hard work.


Photo of an adult spotted lantern fly courtesy of Getty Images


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