Fruit and vegetable plants, as well as trees in Greater Williamsburg, could soon become the home to a new invasive bug that spreads fungus wherever it flies.
The Spotted Lanternfly has been detected at a stoneyard Frederick County, Virginia, according to a Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) news release.
The fly feeds on fruit bearing plants, such as apple and peach trees, and even grape vines.
That’s a problem for Williamsburg Winery winemaker Matthew Meyer.
“Things are shifting and bugs are traveling where they haven’t traveled before based on climate change,” Meyer said in an interview. “So, we’ll see more potential for more invasive bugs like the Spotted Lanternfly.”
Wine country ‘decimated’ by invasive pests
Meyer’s past experience with invasive bugs stems from a stint in Napa Valley in California.
A leafhopper insect, similar to the Spotted Lanternfly, called the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter, was introduced to California in the 1990s.
Meyer and a friend were standing in his orchard, and it felt like he was being rained on — that’s how fast the Glassy Winged Sharpshooters were eating and digesting their food, he said.
Worse than that, the insects brought diseases to the vineyard.
“This thing is aggressive. They literally decimated entire vineyards.”
While the sharpshooter was a concern in California, the Spotted Lanternfly can bring similar diseases and cause similar damage, according to a VDACS news release.
The lanternfly, native to China, India, and Vietnam, can promote the growth of crop-killing just by feeding on the plant.
It was first found in the United States in 2014 at a Pennsylvania stone imports business. Stone products were shipped from the Pennsylvania business to the Frederick County, Virginia business.
VDACS inspectors monitored the Frederick County business since 2015 without finding the insect until January 2018.
The insect has been detected in Frederick County.
The Spotted Lanternfly can live in Virginia
Its diet allows it to feed on a variety of plants and crops, but Meyer said, it may not survive a particularly cold winter in Virginia.
“I love this winter – [it] will kill so many horrible bugs,” Meyer said.
According to the Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension, the insects’ eggs can survive the winter, but the adult insects typically die.
That leaves Meyer hoping for the best. He said an extremely cold winter might kill the bugs.
The lanternfly lay egg masses are gray-brown in color and hatch in the spring and early summer.
By August, an area can become inundated with the insects.
The insect “has great potential to impact the country’s grape, orchard, logging, tree- and wood-product, and green industries,” according to a Virginia Cooperative Extension.
VDACS is currently determining the the extent of the infestation to develop a plan for control and management. Currently, there is no quarantine zone.
For Meyer, the bug could devastate local winemakers and the agricultural economy.
“Unfortunately, if those bugs are here,” Meyer said. “There’s not a lot we can do.”
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