Spotted lanternflies among topics at open house

Photo courtesy of Penn State Extension
Brian Stockman
Staff Writer

The Penn State Extension Elk County Office held an Open House Thursday, Sept. 6, at its office in Ridgway. Many topics were discussed and presentations made, but the number one topic, especially among farmers and landowners, was the threat posed by the spotted lanternfly.  While it has not yet been formally identified in Elk County, Cheri Micale, PennState Extension Office Manager, fears it is only a matter of time. 
"It probably has already arrived this summer to the region," she said. 
The spotted lanternfly, a brightly colored red and black moth-like insect, is the latest insect invader of the Commonwealth. It landed in Pennsylvania’s Berks County sometime in 2012 and has munched its way across 13 counties, threatening grapes, orchards and hardwood trees. State and federal officials want to stop it, and they’ve spent about $20 million this year on research and eradication efforts.
Spotted lanternflies are a highly invasive species that threaten plants, including fruit and hardwood trees. Rick Roush, dean of Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences takes an even dimmer view.
In addition to weakening trees by feeding on them as nymphs, the adult lanternflies do even more damage. They excrete a sticky sweet substance called honeydew after they eat, which covers leaves and bark. That substance attracts black sooty mold, which grows on the tree, preventing photosynthesis.
The adult spotted lanternflies love to feast on an invasive plant species – the ailanthus tree, which came to the U.S. from China more than two hundred years ago. The ailanthus tree, or “Tree of Heaven,” is now a ubiquitous urban weed tree.
Officials are happy that the spotted lanternfly could end up killing off invasive ailanthus trees, and researchers are working on projects that use the ailanthus tree to trap the pest as part of its eradication program. The USDA is sending researchers to China to find out more about the bug’s habits and life cycle. Meanwhile, 13 counties in southeastern Pennsylvania are under a quarantine, meaning that any business that might transport plants or produce infected with the bug has to do online training and carry a permit if they travel outside of the quarantine area.
The spotted lanternfly is a destructive invasive pest, threatening agricultural, timber, and ornamental industries, and the plants in your backyard.
If you find the spotted lanternfly outside the quarantine zone, report it to the PennState Extension Office or call 1-888-4BAD-FLY.