Spotted lanternfly is a plant stressor, but is no locust, OSU experts say

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Spotted Lanternfly life stages
Spotted lanternfly life stages. Photo credit: Penn State Extension and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

LONDON, Ohio — Spotted lanternflies have been a problem in Pennsylvania for several years now. The bug has infested much of the state and other parts of the eastern U.S., and has moved West into other states, like Ohio.

“So, yes, this bug is probably going to colonize the state, and we should be prepared for what this bug is actually going to do,” said Ashley Leach, assistant professor in Ohio State University’s department of entomology, in a Sept. 20 talk at Farm Science Review, in London, Ohio.

But while spotted lanternflies do present a threat to some crops, it’s important to take a step back and look at the actual impact of the bugs, she said.

“People are reacting very strongly to [spotted lanternflies],” Leach said. “It’s very similar to what we saw with brown marmorated stink bug, where we kind of need to slow down.”

Impact

The spotted lanternfly can lead to issues of three types: Feeding damage, nuisances and challenges with complying with quarantines.

When it feeds on plants, it leaves sticky honeydew behind that can cause issues with sooty mold or attracting other bugs, which can be a major nuisance for homeowners. And for businesses or organizations that deal with transporting things in or through quarantined areas, complying with quarantine regulations can be an extra challenge.

The bug can feed on more than 100 plant species. But the two plants spotted lanternflies can live on throughout an entire season are grapes and tree of heaven, Leach said. Tree of heaven is also an invasive species, and typically when spotted lanternflies are found, the plant is not far away.

Research is still ongoing, but so far, grapes are the main crop that researchers are concerned about, she said. The bug has actually not been observed to kill plants other than tree of heaven, some small saplings and ornamentals and grape vines.

Even in cases where the bug has killed grape vines, it seems to take a large infestation, and other existing plant health issues, she added. Issues with reduced yields or serious damage to plants are more likely with higher numbers of spotted lanternflies. And keeping plants healthy can also help minimize the effect spotted lanternflies have on them.

“One thing we really need to be thoughtful of: SLF is a plant stressor. It is not a locust. It is not something that’s going to come through and wipe out your field,” Leach said. “It’s something that is going to be … maybe a straw that breaks the camel’s back. So let’s make sure we don’t have a whole bunch of straws on that camel.”

Management

Fortunately, there are quite a few insecticides that seem to be useful for managing the pest, Leach said. Some growers also burn egg masses off of things like fence posts at the end of their season.

“There’s a lot of different options. It just depends on the situation you’re in,” Leach said.

In Pennsylvania and other states where the bug is already known to be widespread, residents have often been urged to kill any spotted lanternflies they find. In Ohio, however, the message is a little different: “If you detect it, collect it,” said Amy Stone, agriculture and natural resources educator with Ohio State University Extension in Lucas County, in a talk at Farm Science Review Sept. 22.

Collection can either mean taking a photo before killing the spotted lanternfly, or capturing the bug, and reporting the sighting to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. That way, the department can confirm whether it’s actually a spotted lanternfly, and can take action if necessary.

Reporting

So far, the department has confirmed reproducing populations of spotted lanternflies in Cuyahoga, Jefferson and Lorain counties in Ohio, and is looking into a possible one in Mahoning County, Stone said. There have also been quite a few reports of single spotted lanternflies in cities including Cincinnati, Toledo and Columbus in the last few weeks.

While the bug is a leaf hopper and doesn’t fly far, it can travel a long way by hitchhiking on things like cars and trains, which is typically how it spreads to different areas. That’s why states including Ohio and Pennsylvania have placed quarantines on infested areas that restrict movement of some items, like plants.

Ohioans can help prevent spotted lanternflies from spreading by inspecting their own vehicles and equipment for bugs and egg masses, and even going through a car wash before leaving an infested area, Stone said.

At this time of year, most spotted lanternflies are in the adult stage, about an inch long with black bodies and brightly colored wings. In the fall through early winter, they will lay egg masses, which are small, gray masses with by a waxy covering, and which hatch in late spring.

In Ohio, people can report spotted lanternflies or egg masses, or tree of heaven, at agri.ohio.gov/divisions/plant-health/invasive-pests/slf. County extension staff can also help Ohioans report suspected spotted lanternflies, Stone added.

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