Invasive insect found in Virginia; Residents urged to report spotted sightings
An invasive insect that damages farm crops, stinks of vinegar and creates a black, sticky mess on homeowners’ trees has been found in Virginia.
Officials are hoping citizens will help monitor and track the movement of this pest, the spotted lanternfly.
“We think we could see them covering homeowners’ trees in numbers that could even be worse than the 17-year cicadas,” said Eric Day, manager of the Virginia Tech Insect Identification Lab, which is helping monitor the insect’s geographic reach. “We are still determining how bad this impact is going to be on both agricultural producers and homeowners.”
The bug prefers feeding on the invasive tree of heaven, which is rampant around the state. For much of its lifecycle, the spotted lanternfly will attack apple and pear trees, hops, grapes and other valuable crops.
“It is vital that homeowners and farmers inform their Extension agents or the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services should anything suspicious occur on their properties,” explained Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “These insects are monsters, feeding on more than 70 plants, many of which are agricultural crops.”
An adult spotted lanternfly is about 1 inch long and ½ inch wide. Its forewings are gray with black spots and the wing tips have black blocks outlined in gray. Its hind wings have contrasting patches of red and black with a white band. The legs and head are black; the abdomen is yellow with broad black bands. During immature stages, it is black with white spots and develops red patches as it grows.
The insects are native to China, India and Vietnam but moved to Korea in 2006, where they attacked more than 60 different plant and agricultural crops. They were found for the first time in the U.S. in 2015 in Pennsylvania.
They can spread easily, laying eggs on host plants, as well as on concrete, rocks, wood pallets and vehicles, which are then moved around the state. Spotted lanternfly eggs and dead adults were found in Winchester in January near a railway and a highway. The egg masses started to hatch in May.
Merely cutting down trees of heaven doesn’t help. They will grow back from their roots, creating more feeding opportunities for the lanternfly.
Anyone who sees signs of the insect or its eggs is encouraged to take photos and report sightings by calling 804-786-3515 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit vdacs.virginia.gov/plant-industry-services.shtml.