Highly Invasive Insect Pest on the Move

— Written By and last updated by Elisabeth Purser
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An infestation of the Spotted Lanternfly (SLF) has been reported in Carroll County, VA, which is just north of Surry County and the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina.

Bug on a Tree

Adult Spotted Lanternfly by Richard Gardner University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

In response, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – Plant Industry Division (NCDA&CS) has issued a warning to North Carolina residents regarding the increased likelihood of transmission of this highly invasive pest to North Carolina. Any vehicle, camper, and commodity moving from an SLF-infested area could move the highly invasive pest to our state. The highest risk areas in North Carolina are locations with camping, tourist attractions, conventions or other visitor attractions, but even a single vehicle that stops in our state for gas could carry a gravid female (egg carrying) or viable egg mass. SLF feeds on more than 70 plants and, although vineyards are at greatest agricultural risk, home values, tourism and outdoor venues are just a few industries that take a financial hit in areas where the SLF is established. 

Egg Mass of Lanternfly

SLF egg masses are covered with a substance that looks like dried mud  (lower section of tree). After hatching, eggs can be seen arranged in columns (cluster above the covered egg mass). Emelie Swackhamer, Penn State University, Bugwood.org.

Spotted Lanternfly threatens production of both Old World and New World grapes as well as tourism associated with these operations. As a sucking insect, Spotted Lanternfly uses straw-like mouthparts to remove nutrients and sugars from plants, reducing plant vigor. This increases susceptibility to other stress agents, reduces crop quality and quantity, impacts plant cold hardiness, leading to eventual detriment. Feeding can reduce sugar content in fruit and can kill vines by weakening their ability to survive freezing temperatures. In heavily infested areas, untreated vineyards can be completely destroyed in three years. Adult Spotted Lanternfly tend to swarm mid-September to mid-October, which can lead to restricted treatment options prior to harvest. Swarms of Spotted Lanternfly are also an incredible nuisance to guests and can reduce the enjoyment of outdoor events (e.g. weddings) that your venues may host. 

Christmas tree producers often have fields in both North Carolina and Virginia or purchase trees from Virginia to fulfill orders. The Spotted Lanternfly does not feed on Christmas tree species; however, adults could lay highly camouflaged eggs on the stems. Producers should train their staff to look for dead adults and egg masses that may be in the tree. 

Across North Carolina, we should keep a watchful eye out for this pest, which is very distinct from other insects. In the late fall and winter, the egg mass will be the visible lifestage, which can occur on ANY flat surface. If you suspect a possible Spotted Lanternfly, contact your local N.C. Cooperative Extension office, as well as the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to submit a photo to badbug@ncagr.gov.

Learn how to identify the various life stages of the Spotted Lanternfly

Watch a brief video on the Spotted Lanternfly. 

Finding and reacting immediately to SLF will be the only chance we have at control, so we are relying heavily on local residents to be on the lookout and report any potential SLF sightings. It is imperative that we keep this pest out of North Carolina and early detection is critical. If you suspect a possible Spotted Lanternfly please take a picture and submit it in an email to badbug@ncagr.gov or you can call the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at 919-707-3730. The NCDA&CS has also developed Preparedness Kits for grape growers, available upon request.