Kansas Boy’s Bug Collection Garners Blue Ribbon at State Fair—and Federal Investigation

The student’s science project included a spotted lanternfly, an invasive species, that officials did not yet know reached the state

A lanternfly among foliage

The colorful critter features fabulously patterned wings, though it rarely uses them. Instead, the bug hops from plant to plant to devour vegetation. Stephen Ausmus/USDA

A student earned a blue ribbon for his science project at the Kansas State Fair—as well as a federal investigation.

The 4-H member submitted a bug collection as his entry, which included a spotted lanternfly—an invasive insect that is wreaking havoc across the Northeastern United States. The dangerously destructive defiler is devouring crops and trees in several states, including Pennsylvania, where agricultural officials urge residents to kill it on sight.

The student correctly identified the planthopper but did not know it was an invasive species. One of the judges did, though, and quickly alerted officials. They contacted the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which ordered an investigation to determine how the pest entered Kansas, reports Alexandra Villareal of the Guardian.

“We had one entomology issue,” Gregg Hadley, a director at Kansas State University Research and Extension, tells John Green of the Hutchinson News. “It was a dead one, but it was in a critter box.”

Officials are unsure of how this single spotted lanternfly landed in Kansas. No other sightings have been reported in the state so far. Investigators are suspect there is no infestation in or near Hutchinson, Kansas, location of the fair grounds.

“They think it came in on a camper,” Hadley tells the Hutchinson News.

Originally from China, the spotted lanternfly was first detected in 2014 in Pennsylvania, where it has caused widespread destruction at vineyards, orchards, farms and forested areas. It has since spread to New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, New York, Connecticut, Ohio and Vermont.

The colorful critter features fabulously patterned wings, though it rarely uses them. Instead, the bug hops from plant to plant to devour vegetation.

At the Kansas State Fair, the boy’s entry earned him a blue ribbon, the competition’s second-highest award. No points were taken away for not identifying it as an invasive species. If fact, fair officials were excited by the discovery, which brought attention to the potential danger of the spotted lanternfly. The nearest infestation to Kansas is 850 miles to the east in Ohio.

“It’s the excitement of a kid learning about their world, putting it on display, and sure enough, they discovered something that adults were like, ‘Wow, this is really important for us to be aware of,’” Wade Weber, state leader for the Kansas 4-H program, tells Jonathan Edwards of the Washington Post. “He has alerted us to a threat we weren’t aware of, and we’re really thankful.”