A spotted lanternfly is seen at a vineyard in Kutztown,...

A spotted lanternfly is seen at a vineyard in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, in September 2019.  Credit: AP / Matt Rourke

Long Island winemaker Kareem Massoud is keeping a close eye out for the spotted lanternfly, the colorful, voracious invasive insect with a taste for orchards and vineyards.

The hungry bug has chomped its way through Long Island, the five boroughs of New York City and New Jersey after first being discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014.

“There’s a very high level of concern among vineyard owners and operators because this represents a clear and present danger to our vineyards,” said Massoud, president of Long Island Wine Country, which represents wine producers. “It’s almost like a slow motion train wreck … you can see it coming, but there's just not a lot you can do.”

Across social media, people have posted videos showing scores of spotted lanternflies gathering everywhere from apartment terraces to Central Park.

      WHAT TO KNOW 

  • Spotted lanternflies are invasive insects that feed on the sap of more than 70 plant species, leaving them damaged and vulnerable to disease and attacks from other insects. 
  • Vineyards and orchards on Long Island are vulnerable as the insect has destroyed similar agriculture in other parts of the state. 
  • If you see a spotted lanternfly, collect it in a bag and freeze it or put it in a jar with rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer. Email photos and the location where it was found to spottedlanternfly@dec.ny.gov. 

Officials in New York and New Jersey have gone as far as to ask people to "stomp it out" when they see them, or at least bag them up and report the location where they were found.

On Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced more funding for surveillance and control of the spotted lanternfly in an effort to keep it from damaging vital agriculture on Long Island and across the state.

Schumer said he is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to use $200 million already available in a Special Crops Pests program — including $1 million for New York — for containing and monitoring current infestations through trapping and other surveillance methods.

Schumer pledged to put another $22 million into the federal budget to continue the APHIS programs, that also include educating the public about the invasive insect.

“They’re known to quickly overrun vineyards,” Schumer said at a news conference in Manhattan. “They kill the grape vines and they go after our fruit trees … We're one of the leading fruit and vegetable states. And all of that is at risk, severe risk.”

The spotted lanternfly, sometimes known as the Chinese blistering cicada, is native to China and Southeast Asia, according to the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program, which is funded by the state and federal governments as well as the Cornell University Cooperative Extension.

The red, black and gray critter, considered a “planthopper” poses the greatest agricultural threat to grapes, hops, apples, blueberries and stone fruit, according to the program. It pierces the tissues of a plant, feeding on sap and weakening the plant.

Massoud, who runs Paumanok Vineyards and Palmer Vineyards in Riverhead Town, said he has been impressed by the work of scientists and experts in New York and surrounding states who are working hard to keep the infestation under control with quarantines and other measures.

“There’s only so much you can do to control an insect,” he said. “We are sort of bracing ourselves for its arrival.”

Massoud said scientific research and greater awareness of the bug among the general public will be vital in controlling its ravaging of crops.

“They are doing important work understanding the life cycle of this inspect and if there are any natural predators,” he said. “Because while it is one of the tools at our disposal, we would rather not be spraying more insecticide than we need to.”

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