Pesky spotted lanternflies invade Pennsylvania, attack crops, threaten other states

The pesky spotted lanternfly, an invasive species from Southeast Asia, is threatening billions of dollars in crops in Pennsylvania, damaging trees and affecting people's quality of life outdoors.

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The colorful, moth-like pest first showed up in the state five years ago, according to Fred Strathmeyer, the state's deputy secretary for plant industry and consumer protection, in an interview with Philadelphia Magazine.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has since waged a public awareness campaign against the foreign invaders and residents have stepped up to the plate, swatting and killing the insects where ever they see them, as the state continues its efforts to try and control the population.

However, it hasn't been enough to stop the bugs from threatening $18 billion in crops, including fruit trees, hops, timber and grapes, which are integral to the state's almost $5 billion wine industry, according to The Associated Press.

“A couple of vineyards in Berks County have been really affected by this,” Strathmeyer said.

"One, as of last year, had lost 90% of its crop, and this year, the vines actually died. It's definitely decimating some of the vineyards," he told the magazine.

The lanternflies secrete a sugary substance, called honeydew, that causes the growth of a sooty, black mold, the PDA said on its website. While harmless to people, the mold damages plants and the honeydew often coats decks and outdoor furniture and play equipment. The pesky insects also swarm in the air and can cover an entire tree.

"The long-term effects on our forests and so on are still being researched. It will be years before you actually have a good handle on what is happening to other crops," Strathmeyer said.

Meantime, the insects are expanding their range into Delaware, Virginia and New Jersey, the AP reported, causing concerns among officials there and at the United States Department of Agriculture, which is continuing its research on how best to address the lanternfly problem.

Credit: Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

Credit: Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

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