Pa. rolls out nation’s first spotted lanternfly detection dog

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dog working spotted lanternfly
Shane Philipps, compliance and enforcement specialist with the Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture, works with Lucky, a German shepherd trained to detect the scent of spotted lanternfly egg masses, during a press conference, at Eichenlaub Inc. in Allegheny County, on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture)

The spotted lanternfly is everyone’s problem. That was the message from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture and others at a press conference June 22 to give an update on the state’s response to the bad bug that’s spread across the state.

The invasive spotted lanternfly has spread to 34 counties in Pennsylvania since it was first discovered in 2014. Those counties, including three in western Pennsylvania, are under quarantine that requires businesses to take extra steps to ensure they are not transporting lanternflies into non-infected counties.

There’s also a spotted lanternfly detection dog named Lucky, the first of her kind in the country, working for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to find egg masses in hard to reach areas. Pennsylvania State University and others are doing research into new ways to attract and trap the insect, and the best ways to control spotted lanternfly with pesticides.

But, on top of it all, the public has a vital role to play in reporting sightings of the spotted lanternfly and checking personal vehicles, said U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Administrator Carlos Martinez.

“It doesn’t take much to look around your car or your vehicles when you’re leaving the quarantine area just to make sure you’re not carrying this pest with you,” Martinez said, at the press conference held at Eichenlaub Inc, a residential landscaping company in Allegheny County. “It is an excellent hitchhiker.”

Detection

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture enlisted the help of Lucky, a female German shepherd dog, to inspect businesses for lanternfly eggs. She started working last November.

She was trained as a puppy at PennVet’s Working Dog Center and started working last November. Lucky is the first dog in the country trained to detect spotted lanternfly eggs. She helps the department inspect nurseries, greenhouses, vehicle fleets and log yards.

Businesses that operate in or travel through the quarantined counties are required by the department of agriculture to obtain a free spotted lanternfly permit, which comes with the responsibility of maintaining a trained workforce. In western Pennsylvania, Westmoreland, Allegheny and Beaver counties are in quarantine.

“If our trucks need to travel into an area not in quarantine, we’re expected to get a certification that says we’re inspecting our vehicles to make sure they don’t have spotted lanternfly eggs or flies themselves on them,” said Dan Eichenlaub, president of Eichenlaub Inc.

Businesses that violate permit requirements are subject to up to $300 per violation plus court costs. Besides being the law, being permitted is good for business. It protects Pennsylvania businesses so they don’t become targets of sanctions from other states, Martinez said.

Research

The spotted lanternfly seems to be spreading west along transportation routes, like the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and rail lines. It’s found all over eastern Pennsylvania, but is in low concentrations in the Pittsburgh area. That means there is a better chance to contain the spread

At Penn State, researchers are gathering information about the spotted lanternfly to aid the state in its battle to track, treat and contain it. They’ve developed new detection methods and trying out biological and synthetic insecticides.

The college received a $7 million grant from the USDA to cover research through 2023 and $5 million in in-kind support from impacted industries, like grape vineyards.

In its native Asia, the spotted lanternfly populations are kept in check by natural predators, parasites and diseases, so it’s rarely considered to be a pest, said Rick Roush, dean of Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Because of that, not much was known about it from a management standpoint when it was discovered in Pennsylvania.

One grape vineyard in 2019 was decimated by repeated assaults from the spotted lanternfly even though it was under insecticidal control, Roush said.

“Since that time we’ve managed to develop control tactics that have prevented that from happening anywhere else,” he said. “We’re trying to expand on that both in terms of cost effectiveness and reducing any environmental impacts.”

For more information on spotted lanternfly, visit agriculture.pa.gov/spottedlanternfly.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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