While North Carolina has its fair share of invasive species already within the state, experts at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services are also on the lookout for pests just outside of our borders.
The Spotted Lanternfly is a particularly worrisome pest with heavy breeding populations in several nearby states, and NCDA&CS experts are carefully monitoring its spread to minimize any damage it could to here at home.
Originally from China, the Spotted Lanternfly became invasive in Korea in 2004. The pest was first discovered in America in 2014 in Berks County, Pennsylvania, and has since grown quickly to establish populations in nine states primarily in the Northeast.
Amy Michael, who leads the NCDA&CS Spotted Lanternfly program, said that the bugs likely entered the United States by stowing away on shipping boats.
“Spotted Lanternfly can lay its eggs on any flat surface, and we don’t know exactly which shipments it came in on,” she said. “However, there were several businesses in the area of the first population which did import products from China.”
Spotted Lanternfly attacks more than 65 plant species and can be highly destructive if not dealt with early. It sucks the sap from trees, covering the area beneath them with sticky, sugary excretions which can attract other insects and lead to fungal growth. In addition to the nuisance this pest causes average citizens, it has also become a major pest in grapes.
The good news is that Spotted Lanternfly does not have an established breeding population in North Carolina. Four individual insects have been discovered in the state, but so far there has been nothing on the scale of places like Pennsylvania or New Jersey, Michael said.
That means that, unlike pests like Gypsy Moth and Emerald Ash Borer, most efforts around Spotted Lanternfly are directed toward early detection as opposed to quarantine.
“Most quarantines are located in the places where the pest already is, to make sure that SLF is not getting sent out of the state. In those states, no materials can be shipped out without a proper compliance agreement or permit,” Michael said. “For us, we’re very focused on early detection. We already have an invasive pest detection program based on traps that we conduct in vineyards, so we added visual surveys on top of that.”
The department has also focused on mapping the spread of tree-of-heaven, which the Spotted Lanternfly has a particular fondness for. Tree-of-heaven also happens to be invasive, so when inspectors go to verify its presence, they also check the tree for Spotted Lanternfly, Michael said.
The department will also launch a new round of inspections focused on pool filters around Memorial Day. Done in partnership with the NC State Extension, the survey will encourage pool owners to check their filters for both Spotted Lanternfly and Asian Longhorn Beetle.
The bad news is that Spotted Lanternfly seems to have a good shot at eventually making its way into North Carolina. Studies have shown that the state’s climate is conducive to the insects’ life cycles, Michael said, and NCDA&CS surveys have identified plenty of available host plants throughout the state.
Michael said that having members of the public keep their eyes out for Spotted Lanternfly will go a long way. Luckily the insect is easily recognizable; adult spotted lanternfly have light gray forewings with black spots and with wing tips patterned with lines of small black blocks. The hindwings are red and black with a white band, and their bodies are yellow with black bands down the middle.
“The more eyes, the better. A lot of new invasive pests just like this are found by average citizens, the person who found Spotted Lanternfly in Pennsylvania was a hunter who happened to see these strange bugs on tree-of-heaven,” she said.
If you think you have seen Spotted Lanternfly, please take a photo along with a size reference such as a quarter or pen and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure to include the location of the sighting, the date and your contact information. To learn more about the Spotted Lanternfly, visit www.ncagr.gov/slf.