Potential Grapevine Pest Found in Pennsylvania

Spotted lanternfly attacks grapevines in Asia; officials believe it moves slowly

by Linda Jones McKee
The spotted lanternfly (male at left, female at right) is believed to crawl, not fly. Photo source: Greg Hoover
Reading, Pa.—The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) confirmed that a new invasive species, the spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula), has been found in Berks County, Pa., and the department has issued a quarantine to prevent the pest’s movement to new areas. Five townships (Pike, District, Hereford, Washington and Rockland) and two municipalities (Bally and Bechtelsville) are on the quarantine list.

The discovery of the spotted lanternfly (SLF) in southeastern Pennsylvania is especially concerning to grapegrowers, because the Vitis species is one of the hosts for the insect. The spotted lanternfly is a planthopper that is native to China, India, Japan and Vietnam. It was introduced into Korea in 2006, and the insects there have attacked 25 plant species that also are found in Pennsylvania. Host plants in eastern Asia include grapes, pines, stone fruits, apples and more than 70 additional species. Dr. Michael Saunders, professor of entomology at the Pennsylvania State University, told Wines & Vines that the pests in Berks County were found on wild grapevines, maple trees, weeping willow trees and Ailanthus altissima (an invasive sumac-like tree commonly known as Tree of Heaven).

The 1-inch-long insect uses its piercing-sucking mouthparts to feed on the sap of trees and vines. The insects excrete a fluid that coats leaves and stems and encourages the growth of mold. According to Saunders, the SLF “has the potential to impact the green industry, grapegrowers, tree fruit growers and the forests and wood products industries in Pennsylvania as well as (other parts of) the United States.” As of 2011, the wine and grape industry in Pennsylvania had a total economic impact on the state’s economy of $1.9 billion.

Saunders believes that the SLF has been present in Berks County for about two years. While some reports from Asia indicate that the insect egg masses are cold sensitive, SLF eggs survived last winter’s colder than normal temperatures in Pennsylvania and hatched this past spring. Official identification of the invasive pest was made in September, and surveys made by the PDA show that the infested area in Berks County may be approximately 30 square kilometers.

Richard Blair, owner of Blair Vineyards in Kutztown, Pa., owns a 7-acre vineyard in Rockland Township. While he has not seen SLF in his vineyard, family members have found the insects about 1 mile away from the vineyard. Blair attended a Nov. 8 meeting conducted by the PDA and Berks County officials, and he told Wines & Vines that since this is the first time the SLF has been found in this country, not much is known about the insect and what pesticide might be effective against it. “One thing we do know about the SLF is that it doesn’t move very well,” Blair reported. “The officials think that in the two years the SLF has been in Berks County, the SLF has not moved more than about 2 miles from what may be the source of the infestation. They don’t fly, they jump. In Korea, one thing that has worked has been banding the vine or tree with sticky tape, as the SLF will crawl up the vine.”

Since Berks County has now had a killing frost, most of the SLF adults are probably dead. PDA officials, grapegrowers, orchard owners and others concerned with the potential SLF problem will have the winter to look for egg masses laid by last season’s adult insects. SLF lay their eggs on smooth surfaces such as stone, the smooth bark of the Tree of Heaven and other vertical surfaces. The nymphs typically hatch in late April to early May.

Under the quarantine, intentional movement of the SLF is prohibited, and violations could result in criminal or civil penalties and/or fines. Businesses in the quarantined areas may obtain a certificate of limited permit from the PDA to allow the movement of quarantined articles. According to the PDA, articles that may not be removed or moved to a new area include:

• Any living stage of the Spotted Lanternfly, Lycorma delicatula. This includes egg masses, nymphs, and adults.

• Brush, debris, bark, or yard waste.

• Landscaping, remodeling or construction waste.

• Logs, stumps or any tree parts.

• Firewood of any species.

• Grapevines for decorative purposes or as nursery stock.

• Nursery stock.

• Crated materials.

• Outdoor household articles including recreational vehicles, lawn tractors and mowers, mower decks, grills, grill and furniture covers, tarps, mobile homes, tile, stone, deck boards, mobile fire pits, any associated equipment and trucks or vehicles not stored indoors.

Concerned growers can obtain more information about SLF from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture or by contacting plant inspection program specialist Dana Rhodes at danrhodes@state.pa.us

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