Invasive Insect Poses Large Threat to Virginia Crops

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The Spotted Lanternfly, native to Asia, poses a large threat to American crops. (Courtesy of Flickr)

STATEWIDE — An invasive insect could be detrimental to crops in Virginia if it continues to spread. 

The Spotted Lanternfly, or Lycorma delicatula, is a planthopper that is approximately 25 mm long and 12 mm wide. The insect is native to East Asia and prefers to feed off another invasive species, the Tree of Heaven, a type of exotic tree also from Asia. 

But this insect is proving to be a threat to other trees and crops in the United States. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), “If allowed to spread in the United States, this pest could seriously impact the country’s grape, orchard, and logging industries.”

What makes this bug such a big threat is the lack of native enemies present in the U.S. Because the Tree of Heaven already exists in America as a well-established and aggressive invasive species, the lanternfly could successfully live out its lifespan here.

The Tree of Heaven, an invasive tree native to Asia, has a signature red fruit cluster as shown above. Spotted Lanternfly can commonly be found feasting on this tree. (Courtesy of Flickr)

According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), Spotted Lanternflies can kill grapevines in the plants are untreated. Even with treatments, the potential for harvest decreases by 75-90%.  

The insect can also kill small trees and harm other agriculture crops, like cucumbers, basil and hops.

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“The Spotted Lanternfly  hasn’t been in the United States for that many years, so its full impact on agriculture hasn’t been fully realized,” Tina Macintyre, Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey Coordinator, said in a VDACS virtual meeting on Feb. 23.

The flies can also be a pest for homeowners. The Spotted Lanternfly feeds on the sap of the tree, sometimes ingesting more than they need. The flies secret a substance called honeydew, which is a sticky residue from all the excess sugars they have ingested. These sugars can coat anything under the tree the flies are feeing on, including decks, outdoor furniture, and cars.

The honeydew also attracts other insects, attracting butterflies, moths, and stinging insects. Sooty mold, a type of fugus, can also grow on plants to coated in honeydew, causing further damage to plants.

Essentially, one insect can have detrimental impacts on Virginia agricultural exports.

“Once other states or other countries know that we have Spotted Lanternfly, they may stop our commodities from moving into their area because they don’t want Spotted Lanternfly there,” Macintyre said.

The Spotted Lanternfly was first seen in Pennsylvania in September of 2014 and has since spread to parts of the mid-Atlantic region, according to the USDA.

In 2018, the Spotted Lanternfly was detected in northern Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Forestry. 

Parts of Virginia are in a Spotted Lanternfly quarantine, meaning that certain articles capable of transporting the insect are forbidden from moving in or out of that area. 

Counties under the Spotted Lanternfly quarantine are Clare, Frederick, Warren and the City of Winchester. 

“The purpose of this quarantine is to help prevent the artificial spread of Spotted Lanternfly to uninfested areas of the Commonwealth by regulating the movement of articles that are capable of transporting the Spotted Lanternfly,” according to a statement from VDACS in their document outlining regulations of the quarantine. 

So what should you do if you see a Spotted Lanternfly?

First, know what you’re looking at. According to VDACS and the Virginia Tech Department of Entomology, the flies can look similar to some types of moths and insects, such as the tiger moth or the ornate bella moth. Click here to see a pdf of Spotted Lanternfly look-alikes. 

If you do find an insect you believe to be a Spotted Lanternfly, and you are outside of Fredrick, Clarke, Warren counties or the City of Winchester, report the sighting to the Virginia Cooperative Extension.

For contact information to the James City County Virginia Cooperative Extension, click here. For the York/Poquoson Virginia Cooperative Extension, click here. To watch the VDACS meeting on the Spotted Lanternfly on YouTube, click here. For more details about the Spotted Lanternfly Quarantine, click here.

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