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Invasive species experts: Be on the lookout for the spotted lanternfly

Long Island’s forested lands have already been stressed by southern pine beetle and gypsy moth infestations, as well as the oak wilt fungus.

Pinned spotted lanternfly adult with wings open.

Pinned spotted lanternfly adult with wings open. Photo Credit: Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

A tree- and crop-damaging insect called the spotted lanternfly that is native to Asia has been found in New York and local experts are asking the public to help spot the invasive species.

The colorful insect, which has two sets of wings and can walk, jump or fly, can affect grapes, hops, almonds, apples, cherries and several varieties of trees, including oak, pine, poplar and sycamore.

The species can spread rapidly, and landscapers, arborists, homeowners and others are being warned to be on the lookout, said Dan Gilrein, an extension entomologist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.

“This population can go almost unchecked,” he said.

Luke Gervase, an education and outreach specialist with Long Island Invasive Species Management Area, said in an email that parts of New York City and Long Island are considered at high risk for invasion because of the abundance of a tree variety — tree-of-heaven, itself an invasive species — that is one of the primary hosts for spotted lanternflies.

Long Island’s forested lands have already been stressed by southern pine beetle and gypsy moth infestations, as well as the oak wilt fungus. “We don’t really want any more stressors on our forests,” Gilrein said.

The insects are found normally in China, India, Japan and Vietnam. The first detection in the United States was documented in Pennsylvania in 2014, though officials believe they arrived in 2012, and 13 counties there are under quarantine, said Emelie Swackhamer, an extension educator in horticulture at Penn State Extension in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

The insect was also found in Delaware state and Delaware County, New York, in November, according to a news release from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

The Delaware County lanternfly was dead and spotted in shipping materials at a pharmaceutical company. Infested materials containing eggs is another way the species can expand its area.

“If allowed to spread in the United States, this pest could seriously harm the country’s grape, orchard and logging industries,” according to a pest alert issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Officials with the Long Island Wine Council did not respond to requests for comment.

State Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman Erica Ringewald said in an email the agency is working with the USDA and state agencies on a public outreach plan that includes how to identify and report sightings. The plan will be announced in the coming weeks.

Adult spotted lanternflies can be about 1 inch long and a half-inch wide with large wings that are speckled, dotted and striped in black, brown, red, yellow and white.

Nymph lanternflies can feed on as many as 70 trees and plants, but the adults tend to feed and lay eggs on tree-of-heaven, black walnut and hops, Swackhamer said.

“It really has the potential to damage a lot of species of trees and plants,” she said.

The insects suck sap from stems and leaves, weakening the plant, in some cases causing them to ooze and produce a fermented odor. The insects also excrete a fluid that attracts stinging insects and also leads to mold growth.

“There’s many different ways that these insects are objectionable and obnoxious,” Swackhamer said.

Parasitoids — tiny wasps that feed on their host — spiders, praying mantis and perhaps cardinals feed on spotted lanternflies, Swackhamer added.

Gervase is asking people with tree-of-heaven — scientific name Ailanthus altissima — in their yards to place sticky survey bands on the trees and check them every two weeks for the insects, which are black with white dots when young. The gray-barked tree with long leaves has a strong odor of its own. Findings will be reported and mapped to determine risk areas.

Sightings can be reported to the state Division of Plant Industry at (800) 554-4501 or plants@agriculture.ny.gov.

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