Look out for the spotted lanternfly, a bug that threatens fruit and wine!

By on May 20, 2021

Guest authors: Courtney Smith and Kelly Oten, NCSU Extension

The spotted lanternfly adult may be flashy, but it's destructive! Image: Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org
The spotted lanternfly adult may be flashy, but it’s destructive!
Image: Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org

You won’t like the spotted lanternfly if you like to sit under the shade of trees, enjoy fruits such as apples, sip wine or work in the garden. The spotted lanternfly is an invasive insect from Asia that attacks numerous plants. It was first detected in the U.S. in Pennsylvania in 2014 and has become an extreme annoyance. In 2018, this pest was spotted in Virginia. Its bright colors and unique pattern may be beautiful, but the damage and nuisance are anything but!

The spotted lanternfly is documented to feed on 103 plant types worldwide! Its favorite is the invasive tree of heaven, which appears to support spread of the pest. Spotted lanternfly also attacks hardwoods and woody vines like maples, fruit trees, grapevines and hops. As a result of its feeding habits, it is a threat to the grape, fruit tree and plant nursery industries. Infested vineyards have documented as much as a 90% reduction in grape yields due to this pest.

The spotted lanternfly is a threat to the fruit industry. Image: Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org
The spotted lanternfly is a threat to the fruit industry.
Image: Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org

Not only is the spotted lanternfly a threat to our economy, it is also downright annoying. Like other planthoppers, the spotted lanternfly uses piercing-sucking mouthparts to feed on plant sap. It excretes a sugary substance called honeydew, which often covers outdoor equipment and decks in areas that the insect has infested. Even worse, honeydew fosters the growth of sooty mold, a dark fungus which is aesthetically displeasing and can block photosynthetic capabilities of plants. In states where the pest is rampant, people have reported that its huge numbers and annoying habits make it harder for them to enjoy time outside.

The spotted lanternfly moves quickly. It can lay eggs on any flat surface, making it is easy for people to unknowingly transport the pest. The eggs are contained within gray masses. To prevent the spread of spotted lanternfly, it’s important to keep an eye out for these masses as well as the pest itself.

An early stage spotted lanternfly nymph Image: Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org
An early stage spotted lanternfly nymph
Image: Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org
A late stage spotted lanternfly immature is called a nymph. Image: Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org
A late stage spotted lanternfly immature is called a nymph.
Image: Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org

You can help stop the spread of spotted lanternfly by checking outdoor items and vehicles for egg masses and by being on the lookout for both adults and immatures. If you find it, report it! By being on the lookout, you can help protect our economy and preserve the fruits, ornamentals and wine that you love!

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