Invasive spotted lanternfly has swarmed across the East Coast and been seen in Indiana. Could it be coming here next?
The beautiful inch-long bug sucks the sap out of hops, grapes and other fruits.
With fire-engine red wing patches and a yellow-and-black striped abdomen, the spotted lanternfly is a strikingly beautiful insect.
So beautiful, you can buy watercolors of its likeness, plus lanternfly porcelain brooches, earrings and T-shirts.
But if you see a real, live one, don’t coo over it — smash it to bits, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is urging. The invasive insect, native to China, has swarmed up and down the East Coast, destroying hops, grapes and all kinds of other fruit.
“If allowed to spread in the United States, this pest could seriously impact the country’s grape, orchard and logging industries,” according to the USDA.
And bug experts here warn that it’s likely only a matter of time before the inch-long insect ends up in Illinois.
“It’s one of those things we’ve been waiting on pins and needles for it to show up. It could show up tomorrow, it could show up yesterday, it could show up three years from now,” said Scott Schirmer, a DeKalb-based insect expert with the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
The lanternfly has been spotted in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, Schirmer said.
The insect was first identified in Pennsylvania in late 2014, said Shannon Powers, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
Powers chuckled when asked how many times she’s been interviewed about the lanternfly.
“Sometimes dozens and dozens [of times] within a week,” she said.
Part of that has to do with the creepy-crawly factor, especially when the bugs show up in a big city.
“They can only go one direction. So if there is a building in their way, and there is a big mass of them, they all just hit the side of the building. You’ll see hordes of them on the side of the building,” Powers said.
But it’s no laughing matter for farmers, Powers said. The bugs suck the sap out of vine and tree fruits, killing the produce.
The bugs have been identified in 48 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, Powers said. In Berks County, the first place in the state where the insects were spotted, some vineyards initially saw an almost 100% crop loss, she said.
“Their vineyards looked like they were burned out,” Powers said.
They can only fly short distances. So hitchhiking — whether on humans or on their vehicles — helps the spread. They have “incredible clinging power,” Powers said, noting a car can be traveling at 60 mph and it still won’t dislodge the lanternfly.
“They’re like little dogs with the flapping ears,” she said.
Authorities spray insecticide along transportation corridors and set traps to try to slow the spread, Powers said.
The lanternfly’s eye-catching colors also help.
“It’s not one of those pests that when people see it, they forget about it. … We have to try to use that to our advantage,” Schirmer said.
To report a lanternfly spotting in Illinois, call the Illinois Department of Agriculture at 815-787-5476 or send an email, preferably with photos, to email@example.com.