Thursday, October 03, 2019

Invasive species that ruins grapes, hops, fruits, nuts and hardwoods is spreading from Pennsylvania

A spotted lanternfly. (Penn State photo by Michael Houtz)
The spotted lanternfly, a pest that munches on grapes, hops, fruit, nuts and some hardwoods, is spreading in the eastern U.S. Though the insect is native to China, it was first seen in Pennsylvania in 2014 and has been spreading since then, Bill Lucia reports for Route Fifty.

As of this year, the spotted lanternfly has been found in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey. They don't bite, sting, or carry human diseases, but they do post a serious threat to farmers, especially those with vineyards, Lucia reports. Some Pennsylvania vineyards have reported up to a 90 percent crop loss.

"With this in mind, state and federal agencies have been waging a pricey war against the insect, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture allotting about $50 million—roughly $30 million of it in the past fiscal year—and Pennsylvania budgeting $3 million annually during the past two years for anti-lanternfly efforts," Lucia reports. "California’s agriculture department is also funding lanternfly research, including a project exploring the possibility of deploying small wasps as potential combatants. The spotted lanternfly has yet to establish a population in the major agricultural—and wine producing—state, but has turned up ominously on airplanes landing there."

Heather Leach, a spotted lanternfly expert at Pennsylvania State University's extension office, said the lanternfly will almost certainly keep spreading because of its lack of natural predators in the U.S. Predictive models show that it could most easily spread in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, but that it would also probably thrive in the Midwest and West Coast, Lucia reports.

Researchers are trying to figure out safe ways to kill the pest with natural methods like fungi and wasps, but say there's probably not a silver bullet solution. Some enterprising Philadelphia residents have even tried to gamify killing the bugs with an app called Squishr where Philly residents can compete to see who can log the most kills. 

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