Invasive Spotted Lanternflies Reach Eight New Jersey Counties

The insect is an ‘excellent hitchhiker,’ says the New Jersey Department of Agriculture

Spotted lanternfly
The first infestation of spotted lanternflies in the U.S. was found in Berks County, Pennsylvania in 2014. Photo by Brian Henderson via Flickr under CC BY-NC 2.0

A six-legged threat has eight New Jersey counties under quarantine, Alaa Elassar reports for CNN. An invasive insect called the spotted lanternfly has spread to the Garden State. In total, the insect has infestations in four states and has been found in eight. Many affected counties have imposed quarantines to reduce the spotted lanternfly’s spread.

That means that residents need to check their vehicles for spotted lanternflies before they travel—the insect is an “excellent hitchhiker and has been known to ride on any kind of transportation,” according to a statement by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.

Adult spotted lanternflies are about one inch long and have black bodies and colorful wings that are half-red and half-grey with black spots. They feed on about 70 species of plants and pose a risk to native wildlife and agriculture because of a sugary substance they leave behind.

The flying insects are native to China, India and Vietnam, but since 2014 have been found in large numbers in New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. New Jersey residents describe their insect-fighting strategies to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Frank Kummer: they’re fighting back with a salt gun, a vacuum cleaner outdoors, and an ongoing game of whack-a-mole on the patio.

“We are still in the expansion and growth phase for this invasive bug and management needs to be implemented immediately,” says Rutgers entomologist Anne Nielsen to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Nielson adds that she’s getting reports of more of the insects this year than last year, especially in central and southern New Jersey.

While spotted lanternflies won’t harm people or pets, they can cause significant damage to plants, from wild maple and walnut trees, to fruit trees in orchards and grapevines. The insects feed by piercing the plant with their mouth and then sucking out the sap. At the same time, they excrete a sugary substance called honeydew that stays behind on the plant when they fly away. The honeydew can promote fungus growth that damages or kills the plant.

The insect seems to prefer the tree of heaven, another invasive species from Asia. But the tree of heaven has been around much longer than the spotted lanternfly—it was first brought to Philadelphia in 1784. The tree is hard to control because of its vast root systems. To remove the tree, all of the roots must be removed because even a small piece of root left behind can grow into a new tree.

Spotted lanternfly management focuses on the tree of heaven because the insect may rely on the tree to reproduce. Spotted lanternflies lay eggs once a year, leaving egg masses pasted to tree bark that look like smeared modeling clay, Drexel University entomologist Karen Verderane tells CBS Philadelphia’s Greg Argos.

If the egg masses go unnoticed in the spring, then swarms appear in the summer.

“I would say that there are more now due to a lack of control,” entomologist Lauren Bonus, who works with the Camden County Mosquito Commission, tells the Philadelphia Inquirer. “They are an invasive insect without a predator. We tell people the best thing you can do is kill them.”

Egg clusters can be scraped off of tree trunks, double-bagged and thrown away. The insects go through a few life stages before reaching their inch-long adult form, detailed by PennState Extension. Between April and July, the insects are early nymphs, which are about an eighth of an inch long and black with white spots. And from July to September, they are late nymphs, which are about half an inch long and red and black with white spots. Adults can be found from July to December.

If residents spy a spotted lanternfly, they can report it to the Department of Agriculture in New Jersey, according to the statement. Camden County in New Jersey has also started putting sticky tape around trees, about four feet up the trunk, to catch spotted lanternflies when they crawl up the trunks, per the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Verderane tells CBS Philadelphia, stopping the infestation will require “vigilance, reporting and good ole’ squashing.”

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