Maryland on the lookout for spotted lanternfly invasion
ELKTON — While they haven’t yet been spotted in Cecil County, farmers here are on the lookout for a new invasive species: the spotted lanternfly.
The colorful but harmful invasive planthopper that has already caused serious crop damage in neighboring southeastern Pennsylvania. Officials with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture have estimated the loss due to the spotted lanternfly to that state’s economy at $18 billion across 13 counties. It’s also been spotted in Delaware.
So far, the lanternfly has not been spotted in Maryland, but Doris Behnke, who serves as a senior agent associate with the University of Maryland Extension Office in Elkton and also owns Turkey Point Vineyard near North East, is among those keeping a sharp eye out.
“I was coaching my grape pruning crew to be looking for them or any unusual egg masses that the might see on the vines while pruning, and they said they have not seen any,” Behnke said via email. “I know this pest has been a real problem in Pennsylvania, and I guess it is only a matter of time before it reaches us.”
Aaron Shurtleff is a state survey coordinator for the Maryland Department of Agriculture and he’s also been watching the migration. Pennsylvania recently let Maryland know the insects are now within 8-10 miles of the state line.
“We have not found any populations in Maryland to date,” Shurtleff said, adding, “We’re holding our breath too.”
Like the gypsy moth, the emerald ash borer and any numerous other nuisances, the spotted lanternfly was imported here from China, although they are also in Korea, Shurtleff said. He said researchers in China are trying to help by finding something beneficial that won’t hurt the ecology here but would eradicate the spotted lanternfly.
Spotted lanternflies, in their adult stage, are actually a col- orful insect with beige wings that have darker half circles at the wing tips and spots along the wing tops. A second set of wings is darker brown and white. Along the wings on its back is a distinctive dark orange or red patch. But don’t let that fool you, Shurtleff said.
“They are a true bug. They eat with piercing mouth parts and suck out the juices,” he said.
That drains the plant of its nutrients. Spotted lanternflies prefer grapes, apples, cherries, peaches and blueberries as well as cucumbers, and willow, walnut and oak trees to name a few.
Adding insult to injury, the bugs also release a honeydew that is full of sugar.
“It encourages the growth of molds,” he said. “You can’t see it to wash it off.”
He said in larger swarms that honeydew literally falls like rain.
Because this is still an area with four seasons, Shurtleff said it is unlikely the spot- ted lanternfly will be able to have more than one breeding season. Any eggs laid last fall will start to hatch next month. Those egg masses look like a smudge of dirt, he said, meaning only the trained eye could likely spot one.
“They lay the egg mass on vertical surfaces like trees and picnic tables,” he said, noting masses have also been spotted on patio furniture and railroad cars.
Once hatched, look for a tick-like bug with white spots.
“They get red with age,” he said. “In the end of July, they molt into adults.”
Maryland has not reached the need to issue quarantines as have been instituted in areas including Chester County, Pa., in an effort to stop the spread. But in the meantime Shurtleff is asking that anyone who sees an egg mass or — as summer arrives — a juvenile or adult spotted lanternfly to report its location to email@example.com.
Then kill it to stop the spread.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture is asking people in Cecil County to be on the lookout for this pretty but deadly insect called the spotted lanternfly. It’s already caused $18 billion dollars in lost ag revenue in Pennsylvania.