Within the United States, spotted lanternflies could become established in most of New England and the mid-Atlantic states, the central United States, and Pacific coastal states, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in fall 2019.
Pennsylvania authorities have treated spotted lanternfly eggs about 15 miles from Ohio’s border. It won’t be known until this spring if the treatment was successful. The invasive insect is known for killing off grapes, hops and certain trees.
A year ago, Jared Adams began clearing every ailanthus plant that borders his Coshocton County hops fields about 85 miles east of Columbus. He’s preparing for an invasion.
The spotted lanternfly, an invasive and very destructive insect from Asia, could reach Ohio as soon as this spring. The ailanthus, or tree of heaven, is their preferred food source.
“I’m hoping they’ll go for the ailanthus a half-mile down the road,” he said. “But that’s just wishful thinking.”
About 100 miles separate Adams’ organic hops fields and Beaver County, Pennsylvania, on the Ohio border, where egg masses of spotted lanternflies were found near Norfolk Southern’s Conway Rail Yard.
That’s the closest to Ohio the insect has been detected to date — just 15 miles shy of the border.
“It was too late in the season for insecticide treatments (because the insects had already died), but crews removed egg masses. Plans are in place to return to the area to survey and treat with insecticide in the spring,” said Shannon Powers, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Pennsylvania has been combating the pest since 2014.
Between habitat changes caused by climate change and increased global shipping, a hitchhiking pest like the spotted lanternfly could soon thrive here.
A Norfolk Southern spokesperson did not answer questions about whether employees are trained to spot the insects but issued the following statement: “Norfolk Southern cooperates with the Department of Agriculture and provides them access to areas of our property to perform eradication measures.”
When the spotted lanternfly does arrive in Ohio, it will wreak havoc on crops and trees and challenge farmers and foresters alike.
The insects are known to feed on almonds, apples, blueberries, cherries, peaches, grapes and hops as well as hardwoods such as oak, walnut and poplar, among others, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
They obliterate plants and trees by feeding on their sap. They produce a substance that they shoot out with the precision of a Super Soaker water gun. The substance blankets the leaves of plants and blocks photosynthesis. It also facilitates the growth of mold on plants, which leads to rot.
“They are absolutely devastating to grapes. There are vineyard owners in Berks County (Pennsylvania) who have lost 100% of their crop,” Powers said. “The vines themselves are destroyed. So rebuilding after a total loss is time-consuming.”
“This spotted lanternfly, beautiful as it is, is a huge threat to that potential. We struggled in ’13 and ’14 with a polar vortex. And frankly, I was afraid that the industry wouldn’t come back from that,” Winchell said.
Anyone who suspects they have seen lanternflies should call the Ohio Department of Agriculture at 614-728-6400 or email the department at email@example.com.