In­va­sion of lantern­fly is se­ri­ous threat

The Boyertown Area Times - - OPINION -

Steel tar­iffs and trade wars aside, the most wor­ri­some im­port from China right now is the spot­ted lantern­fly.

This in­va­sive species na­tive to China, Viet­nam and In­dia hi­jacked its way to the U.S. on pal­lets into Berks County in 2014, com­ing as an il­le­gal im­mi­grant bring­ing se­vere con­se­quences.

Since then, it has over­rid­den the re­gion from Berks into Mont­gomery County, killing trees, cov­er­ing house sid­ings and decks, forc­ing peo­ple out of back­yard ar­eas and mak­ing out­door din­ing a chore of swat­ting and shoosh­ing.

Be­ware Ch­ester and Delaware counties: It’s just a mat­ter of time be­fore the red and white spot­ted pest finds you.

Be­cause of its risk to Penn­syl­va­nia crops, such as grapes, hops, tim­ber, and fruit-bear­ing trees, the state Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture is­sued a quar­an­tine in town­ships where the pest was first spot­ted to try to con­tain the spread. No such luck. The lantern­fly has been con­firmed to have spread to most of Berks County and parts of Mont­gomery, Bucks, Ch­ester and Le­high counties. Sight­ings have been re­ported east­ward into New Jer­sey and south as far as Kentucky.

With no nat­u­ral preda­tors, the spot­ted lantern­fly poses a multi­bil­lion dol­lar threat to agri­cul­ture and forestry in­dus­tries be­cause it feeds on stone fruit-bear­ing plants and leaves be­hind a sticky sub­stance that at­tracts mold.

State and fed­eral of­fi­cials are spend­ing more than $20 mil­lion to re­search and erad­i­cate the in­sect.

The Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment of­fers home­own­ers tips, that in­clude band­ing trees with sticky tape to stop the adult in­sects from lay­ing eggs, de­stroy­ing Tree of Heaven trees where breed­ing oc­curs and spray­ing of pes­ti­cides when noth­ing else works.

Prop­erty own­ers are urged to scrape the muddy egg masses off trees and re­port them to the state.

To­tal num­ber of eggs scrape re­ports as of March 3 of this year: 1,774,100.

The num­ber of killing by band­ing is also be­ing tab­u­lated, and the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture has a web­site for re­port­ing lo­cal “kills.”

Num­ber of re­ported tree bands kills is 1,065,258.

The ac­tual num­bers are much higher, likely in the multi-mil­lions, il­lus­trat­ing the sever­ity of this in­va­sion.

Although pro­lific and an­noy­ing, the lantern­flies do not sting or bite. Thus, they can be killed by an army of swat­ters.

One such ef­fort this sum­mer was fea­tured re­cently in an ar­ti­cle by The As­so­ci­ated Press, high­light­ing a camp pro­gram to track down and squash the invaders.

The week­long pro­gram, themed “Hunt for the Spot­ted Lantern­fly,” in­volved about 27 chil­dren and their fam­i­lies and was spon­sored by Cen­tro Cul­tural Lati­nos Unidos, a bilin­gual or­ga­ni­za­tion pro­vid­ing ser­vices to Latino fam­i­lies, the Na­tional Park Ser­vice, Friends of Hopewell Fur­nace, Penn­syl­va­nia Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion and Nat­u­ral Re­sources, Ch­ester County Parks Depart­ment, Nat­u­ral Lands Trust and Schuylkill River Green­ways.

Chil­dren learned about the lantern­fly and were then set loose to find the bugs and kill them by swat­ting or col­lect­ing in bags for dis­posal.

“We need to keep (chil­dren) safe and healthy, and the lantern­fly does the op­po­site of that, ba­si­cally,” said Sarah Crothers, ed­u­ca­tion co­or­di­na­tor at the Schuylkill River Green­ways Na­tional Her­itage Area.

Ed­u­ca­tion of prop­erty own­ers is a ma­jor goal of the state agri­cul­ture depart­ment. In­for­ma­tion about ac­cept­able pes­ti­cides, best re­moval tech­niques, and deal­ing with tree dam­age is de­tailed on their web­site. Prop­erty own­ers are also asked to re­port in­fes­ta­tions to bad­bug@pa.gov to al­low the depart­ment to con­tinue track­ing the spread of the pest.

That track is fright­en­ingly fast and fu­ri­ous.

Berks County and its ad­ja­cent neigh­bors in Mont­gomery and Ch­ester counties are see­ing the worst in­un­da­tions, but re­ports are show­ing that the in­va­sion is mov­ing at a rapid rate.

In this sum­mer of swollen rivers and washed out land­scap­ing, the lantern­flies are yet an­other nat­u­ral plague. Deal­ing with it will re­quire an in­vest­ment in sci­ence and a strong dose of in­ge­nu­ity.

Mean­while, swat­ting, scrap­ing and spray­ing are the or­der of the day — un­til we bring this pest un­der con­trol.

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