Help Us Spot the Invasive Spotted Lanternfly!

By on March 25, 2020

As its area of infestation grows, North Carolinians should be on the lookout and report sightings of the spotted lanternfly!

The spotted lanternfly is sure to draw looks with its vibrant coloration and speckled pattern. By most accounts, it’s a pretty insect. Pretty damaging, that is. Pretty annoying, too! But no matter how attractive it may be, it’s one we definitely do not want to take up residence in our state.

The spotted lanternfly is a non-native insect that attacks many species of plants. Native to China, India, and Vietnam, it is already causing damage and has become a significant nuisance in the northeastern U.S. First found in Pennsylvania in 2014, the spotted lanternfly was detected in Virginia in 2018, less than 200 miles from the N.C. state line. It is increasingly likely that it will soon be introduced into our state and with your help, the Department can identify and control it quickly.

It’s hard to miss: the spotted lanternfly is a colorful insect! The immature form is black with white spots (top left) and, in its last immature stage, also has red coloration (top right). When at rest, the top wings are held tent-like and are gray with black spots (bottom left). The underwings are bright red and may be seen in flight. Images: L. Barringer, PA Dept. of Agriculture, Bugwood.org.

One of the biggest issues with the spotted lanternfly is that it attacks more than 65 plant species. It favors tree-of-heaven, an invasive plant that can be found across our state. While the fact that it attacks a pest plant may seem like good news, it also means there is plenty of host material to support its spread. But perhaps more importantly, it’s the other host plants that cause worry: the spotted lanternfly will also attack many species of hardwoods (maple, poplar, willow), fruit trees (apples, Prunus spp.), hops, and grapevine. The wine-making industry is poised to be significantly impacted by this insect, and feeding damage is already causing a substantial reduction in grape crops in infested areas in other states.

While the insect itself is bright and hard to miss, the egg mass is not readily visible. It is gray and somewhat non-descript. Worse, the spotted lanternfly lays its eggs mass on smooth surfaces such as tree bark, bricks, stone, barrels, outdoor furniture, outdoor recreation equipment, and firewood. Because of this inclination to lay an easy-to-miss egg mass on easy-to-move items, egg masses can be accidentally moved by humans to new areas and begin new infestations.

Don’t accidentally move the egg mass! The egg mass is 1-1.5″ long. when newly laid, they are shiny and once hardened, looks like dried mud. This stage can be accidentally transported if eggs are laid on smooth materials (bricks, stone) which is then moved. Images: Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture, Bugwood.org (left); K. Law, USDA APHIS PPQ, Bugwood.org (right).

Keep an eye out! We need to know if this invasive pest makes its way to N.C. and the best way to find something is to have people, like yourselves, looking. In general, experts believe the annual life cycle in North Carolina will be:

  • Immature/nymph (black with white dots): March – June
  • Older immature/nymph stage (red & black with white dots): June – August
  • Adults: July – December
  • Egg masses present: September – May

If you see this insect, report it! The best way is to take a photo and email it to badbug@ncagr.gov. You can also contact your local N.C. Forest Service County Ranger for this or any other forestry-related questions.

We need your help to spot this insect before it makes North Carolina its new home!

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