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Little bug, big trouble: Spotted lanternflies ‘a nuisance to the public’

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski John Hanson of Altoona holds an adult spotted lanternfly at his home along Bell Avenue. Hanson is on a quest to tell neighbors and others that the pretty bugs should be squashed, not admired.

A city resident is on a mission to tell his neighbors and others about the need to keep an eye out for and dispose of spotted lanternflies — in other words, “squash” them, he said.

John Hanson, who lives on Bell Avenue near Prospect Park, has seen more than a dozen of the spotted bugs since last Monday.

He’s concerned about the invasive species because, according to Penn State Extension, the insect is a serious threat to not only residents’ enjoyment of the outdoors, but the state’s economy.

“If not contained, spotted lanternfly potentially could drain Pennsylvania’s economy of at least $324 million annually,” states a study carried out by economists at Penn State.

While the insects don’t hurt people, they do damage plants and trees by using a piercing-sucking mouthpart to feed on sap from over 70 different plant species, according to Penn State Extension documents.

The bugs particularly like grapevines, maple trees, black walnut, birch, willow and other trees. The feeding damage significantly stresses the plants, which can cause the plant to die.

In addition, the insects excrete honeydew — a sugary substance — which attracts bees, wasps and other insects. The honeydew also builds up and promotes the growth of sooty mold, a fungi, which can cover the plant, forest understories, patio furniture, cars and anything else found below where spotted lanternflies are feeding.

Blair County Master Gardener Dee Martin-Spallone said the sightings of the insect have spread.

Native to China, the spotted lanternfly has been in Pennsylvania for the last eight years, spreading into 45 counties in the commonwealth, including Blair.

The invasive insect was first discovered in Berks County in 2014 and by 2020, a quarantine for the insect went into effect in Blair County.

The quarantine means that residents are to inspect anything that could harbor the insect to make sure they’re not helping the inspect spread. In addition, a SLF permit is required for all businesses, agencies and organizations, agricultural and non-agricultural, working within the quarantine zone, which move regulated articles, such as products, vehicles and other conveyances, within or from the quarantine area. A permit is also required to move regulated articles into any part of the state from areas with established lanternfly populations.

“They’ll hitchhike on your car and they’ll travel all around; they’ve warranted state quarantines and impacted the forestry and tourism industries,” Martin-Spallone said.

The insect is also a threat to agriculture, particularly with wineries and vineyards, she said.

The spotted lanternfly sucks the sap from grape vines and “destroys (wineries and vineyards) into nothing,” Martin-Spallone said.

The spotted lanternfly “is a nuisance to the public,” she added.

‘They’re horrendous’

Hanson said he knows firsthand how bothersome the pests are, as when he was outside Wednesday, one landed in his beard.

“They are just horrendous,” he said, noting that he’s had them land on his neck and clothes.

Several months ago, Hanson said he saw one of the insects, but didn’t realize what it was. Now he squashes them every chance he gets and encourages everyone to do the same.

“I’m spreading the word; maybe people will take notice,” he said. “I’m really trying to be proactive.”

Anyone who has trees, decorative plants or weeds could be harboring the pests and should take some time to look for the spotted bug.

In March, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said spotted lanternflies threaten Pennsylvania’s valuable crops, outdoor businesses and quality of life.

“It’s up to every Pennsylvanian to be on the lookout for these bad bugs,” Redding said. “Walk your yard, gardens or land … kill every bug. Check your vehicles before traveling to ensure you’re not transporting them to a new area for new opportunities to devastate crops and outdoor quality of life.”

Hanson has been looking for a better way to get rid of the bugs, like spraying for them, and has contacted various agencies as well as Penn State University about any spraying programs that might be available. But, he’s found that it’s up to residents to spray their own property.

“Me spraying my area and stomping and smashing them isn’t going to stop them,” he said, pointing out Thursday that they appeared to be coming from Prospect Park.

“Even if I went to all the neighbors in the alley,” it wouldn’t stop the spotted lanternfly, he said.

Unfortunately, that’s true.

“If you find a spotted lanternfly, you are to kill it; you are to smash it,” Martin-Spallone said. “But, (experts) have come to the conclusion that the spotted lanternfly is here to stay.”

Research is finding, however, that wide-range use of insecticides and other chemical control methods can manage the pest’s population.

Natural predators and parasites also contribute to population control.

“Report any spotted lanternfly,” Martin-Spallone said. “Especially anyone who is outside the imposed quarantine zone. We all need to be vigilant to watch for the spotted lanternfly.”

To report a spotted lanternfly sighting, call 1-888-4BAD-FLY (1-888-422-3359) or visit https://extension.psu.edu/have-you-seen-a-spotted-lanternfly. This page shows the various stages of the insect, from the egg masses found September through May, the nymphs from April to October and the adults, which can be spotted July through November and what residents are now seeing.

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