Coronavirus hampers spotted lanternfly education

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Spotted Lanternfly
Spotted Lanternfly by U.S. Department of Agriculture (Photo courtesy of Bugwood) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/18866197140)], via Flickr

In Pennsylvania, Allegheny and Beaver counties have already been quarantined. Columbiana and Mahoning — the Ohio counties that border them — could be next.

The quarantine is not for the new coronavirus but for an invasive species, the spotted lanternfly. The insect could cause unprecedented damage to Ohio’s hardwoods, orchards, vineyards, hops, ornamental plants, and even corn and soybean crops.

Experts agree the need for educating the public is urgent, especially in those counties bordering already-affected areas. But isolation orders because of COVID-19 are currently halting those efforts.

Get ready

A March 28 program, at the Beaver Creek Wildlife Education Center, in East Liverpool, Ohio, was canceled. So was a program, in Canfield, Ohio, for the Northeastern Ohio Forestry Association.

It worries Mitch Cattrell, the forestry association’s president.

“The lanternfly is right at our doorstep,” he said.

The group has been active for almost 50 years and has about 150 members. They include owners of woodlands that are harvested for hardwoods, and may be used for recreation or wildlife habitat. A number of the group’s members are “big into maple syrup production.”

“We’re on the front lines, in the woodlots, every day,” Cattrell said. “We need to know about it, and what we can do.”

His wife, Kathy Cattrell, is treasurer of the Beaver Creek center and helps to keep it running. The center is staffed by volunteers and supported entirely by donations.

She and others are worried about what the spotted lanternfly could do to the wooded areas around the center, including a .6-mile loop trail. All of the mature ash trees near the center have been killed by the emerald ash borer.

But the remainder of the trees could be decimated by the lanternfly, which does not discriminate when it comes to species.

“The trees are affected first, then the animals that depend on them,” she said. “We are so close to the Pennsylvania line, we want to make sure we are part of the group that is monitoring the situation and getting the word out.”

Cattrell said she hopes the spotted lanternfly program scheduled for June 13 at the center can go forward. Those interested in attending should email beavercreekw@aol.com, by June 10.

Bryan Weyant, wildlife and forestry specialist with the Columbiana Soil and Water Conservation District, will be the speaker. He said the need to educate the public about the spotted lanternfly is dire.

“The sense of urgency in Columbiana and Mahoning counties is definitely higher now that it has been found in the neighboring counties in Pennsylvania,” he said.

Weyant has been focused on the possibility of an invasion for months.

“This could be one of the most destructive invasive insects we’ve ever seen,” he said.

What it does

The lanternfly is a phloem feeder that preys on more than 70 species of plants, including hardwoods. It drills down through the bark or stem of the plant, opening it up to infection.

Worse, the lanternfly then excretes “honeydew,” a way-too-euphemistic name for a sticky substance that covers leaves, bark, fruit, grape clusters — everything. Rich in carbohydrates, the honeydew attracts other insects and can set the stage for growth of fungus, like sooty mold, which blocks sunlight and stops photosynthesis.

The honeydew also makes trees and low-lying plants inedible for wildlife. And it attracts stinging insects, such as yellowjackets, ruining the woodlands for hunters, hikers, “anyone who enjoys the outdoors,” Weyant said.

The prohibition against public meetings because of the coronavirus has come at a particularly bad time, he said. With the warmer days of spring, the spotted lanternfly’s egg masses start hatching.

That’s why it is crucial that landowners know how to recognize egg masses — and the insect in other stages of life — and report them.

You can help

Pennsylvania State University, which has taken the lead in spotted lanternfly education, recommends that folks who are off work because of coronavirus should spend some time in the woods looking for egg masses and other signs. They have a website that tells what to look for and what to do if you find something: https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly.

Sarah Wickham, chief of communications for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said the Ohio Division of Forestry is working with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and Ohio State University Extension “for education, outreach, survey, and monitoring for spotted lanternfly in Ohio. We are also relying on other states that are currently managing spotted lanternfly infestations and studies done by researchers on this invasive pest for critical information and response strategies.”

Wickham said anyone who sees something suspicious should try to get a good quality photo, then capture the egg mass or insect in a bag or jar. The sighting should then be reported to ODA, at 614-728-6400.

Sightings can also be reported to Weyant, who can answer questions and provide information by phone. He can be reached at the Columbiana SWCD office, at 330-277-2976.

“I’m just one of a large group of people helping to sound the alarm,” he said. “As soon as the (coronavirus) quarantine is lifted, we’re going to hit the ground running with these educational programs.”

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