Spotted Lanternfly Threat Expands in Pennsylvania

Grapegrowers wary as seven counties added to the quarantine zone

by Linda Jones McKee
wine  vineyard winery spotted lanternfly
The expansion covers most of Pennsylvania south of the Pocono Mountains and east of the Susquehanna River.

Harrisburg, Pa.—When the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture first confirmed in 2014 that the invasive species known as the spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) had been found in Berks County, Pa., the department set up a quarantine zone of seven municipalities in an attempt to control spread of the insects.

At that time, Richard Blair, owner of Setter Ridge Vineyards in Kutztown, Pa., had never seen a spotted lanternfly (SLF) in his 7-acre vineyard in Rockland Township, one of the original municipalities in the quarantine area. Four seasons later, he is now very familiar with SLF: In 2017, he removed between 500,000 and 750,000 insects from his vineyards. “They don’t eat the grapes,” Blair told Wines & Vines. “They suck on the vines and take the nutrients out; it’s bad from late August to frost.”

Because of the spread of SLF in southeastern Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture announced in early November that the quarantine zone would be applied at the county level, not just the municipal level. The initial quarantine included municipalities in six Pennsylvania counties (Berks, Bucks, Chester, Lehigh, Montgomery and Northampton). The expansion covers seven more counties (Carbon, Delaware, Lancaster, Lebanon, Monroe, Philadelphia and Schuylkill), including most of Pennsylvania south of the Pocono Mountains and east of the Susquehanna River. While SLF has not been confirmed in all of these locations, there is a high risk of SLF spreading in those areas.

A native of China, India and Vietnam, the 1-inch-long SLF uses its piercing-sucking mouthparts to feed on the sap of trees and vines. Host plants include apple trees, grapevines, hardwood trees and more than 70 other plant species. The insects prefer to breed and feed on Ailanthus altissima, an invasive sumac-like tree commonly called Tree of Heaven that is ubiquitous along interstate highways, railway beds and other transportation corridors.

In addition to trying to eliminate both the insects and Tree of Heaven “mother” trees that bear the seeds, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is working with local, state and federal agencies to obtain additional aid and assistance. The department received $2.9 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture this year to control SLF and another $25,000 for outreach efforts. Because the problem is expanding, the state Department of Agriculture has requested additional federal funding of $10 million to $12 million. It also has worked with the state departments of transportation, conservation and natural Resources to develop a multi-agency response plan.

“Three years into this infestation, we’ve been successful at keeping the spotted lanternfly solely a ‘Pennsylvania problem,’ thanks to our cooperative federal and state containment efforts,” stated Russell Redding, Pennsylvania’s agriculture secretary. “But it is becoming apparent that we must bring more resources to bear if we want to eradicate this pest. It’s also going to take the cooperation and support of the public.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is asking the public and anyone traveling through the quarantined counties to:

• Scrape egg masses from trees or other surfaces, double bag them, and throw them in the garbage—or place the eggs in alcohol or hand sanitizer to kill them. Egg masses, which are laid in the fall, are initially waxy-looking, grey-brown blobs that later look like dried mud. Each egg mass contains 35-50 young spotted lanternflies.

• Check vehicles for egg masses before leaving an infested area.

• Buy firewood locally. Do not take it with you when you leave.

• Check lawn furniture, wood products, construction materials, tarps, lawnmowers, trailers and other items stored outdoors before bringing them in for the winter, covering them or moving them.

• Do not transport brush, yard waste, remodeling or construction waste outside quarantined areas.

Anyone outside the quarantine areas who finds the insects or egg masses should report sightings, documented with photos if possible, to badbug@pa.gov.

According to Blair, there currently are no pesticides certified to spray on vines for SLF. The best thing growers can do is be diligent in spraying for other problem insects such as grape berry moth and hope those sprays will also help control SLF. “They will probably find a biological application,” Blair said, noting that the insects also hit apple orchards, and their owners will be as anxious to find some controls for SLF as grapegrowers. “The spotted lanternfly is going to be a problem for the U.S.,” Blair warned. “Just like the stink bug.”



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