The spotted lanternfly, an exotic insect that feeds like a vampire on the sap of fruit orchards and hardwood trees, has been detected for the first time in Maryland, setting off alarm bells in the agricultural industry.
The bugs themselves look like demonic butterflies. Measuring an inch long by a half-inch wide, they have large, colorful wings. The front set tends to be beige with block dots. The back wings are two-tone — scarlet with black spots at the bottom while striped in black and white at the top.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture announced Oct. 25 that it had found a single adult specimen in a trap in the northeastern corner of Cecil County, at the northern end of the Bay. The county borders Pennsylvania and Delaware, two states where lanternflies had previously been discovered.
Maryland officials said they are moving to stop the invasion in its tracks.
“It’s something we’re looking to do our best to keep our eye on,” said Kim Rice, program manager for plant protection and weed management. “If we can eradicate it, we’re certainly going to try.”
But Rice acknowledged that lanternflies (Lycorma delicatula) have several advantages working in their favor. The Asian imports have no known predators in the region and can expand into new areas by hitchhiking while in their egg stage on the underside of vehicles or train cars.
|Adult Spotted Lanternfly|
It seems to me that the way to attack it most easily would be to attack the Tree of Heaven that they rely on to feed. They may be hard to kill and scattered around the landscape randomly, but at least they don't fly away. And you'd get rid of two invasive species for the price of one.
Allowing the invasive pest to claim even a toehold would be too much, Rice said, because of the risk it poses to agriculture. Lanternflies feast on 70 different types of plants and crops, including apples, peaches, oaks and pines.
And lanternflies may take a bite out of the state’s wineries and breweries: Hops and grapes also are on their menu.
Doris Behnke is a University of Maryland extension agent based in Cecil County, and she owns a winery called Turkey Point Vineyard in the same county. The lanternfly has been on her radar since its first U.S. appearance in Berks County, PA, in 2014. When that state blanketed 13 southeastern counties in a quarantine last year, it was a “real eye-opener,” Behnke said.
She quickly joined the chorus of Maryland agricultural officials and trade groups warning farmers and others to be on the lookout. “It’s a scary thing because there’s no known control for it right now” beyond some insecticides that only appear to be effective shortly after lanternflies hatch, Behnke said. “They’re not picky eaters. They attack trees and vines, and it doesn’t have to be a certain time of year because they don’t go after the fruit.” . . .