Loudoun County officials are enlisting homeowners, gardeners, horticultural retailers, agricultural producers and others in a campaign to thwart the spread of the spotted lanternfly. The invasive insect feeds on Ailanthus altissima (Tree of Heaven) and more than 70 plants, including agricultural crops such as grapes, peaches, plums, cherries and hops.
When the spotted lanternfly is feeding on a plant, it secretes honeydew, a sugar-rich sticky liquid that attracts other insects. Honeydew is then colonized by fungi, which gives it a black appearance, like sooty mold. It is a smelly substance that coats and damages the plant and can also cover the ground below. Spotted lanternfly will not sting or bite humans.
“We have yet to detect the spotted lanternfly in Loudoun, but it has been found in nearby Frederick County,” said Beth Sastre, a horticulturist with the Virginia Cooperative Extension, Loudoun Office. “We’re likely twelve months away from the first spotted lanternfly showing up on a Loudoun fruit tree, hops vine, or a grape vine but once established, the pest is devastating.”
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services detected the spotted lanternfly earlier this year in Winchester. Other places where the spotted lanternfly has been detected in the United States are Pennsylvania, where it was first seen, and Connecticut, Maryland New Jersey and New York. The spotted lanternfly fly is a hitchhiker and can be spread inadvertently by people.
The life cycle of the spotted lanternfly is a single generation every year. Adult spotted lanternflies usually die at the onset of winter; however, their egg masses can survive below-zero temperatures. Egg masses typically include 30 to 50 jellybean-shaped eggs in neat rows covered by a waxy substance that looks like mud.
The egg masses can accumulate on tree trunks and other surfaces from October to early spring, creating the possibility that infested material or items containing egg masses could be moved inadvertently to a new location. For example, the spotted lanternfly does not feed on the types of pine trees that are often used as Christmas trees, but its egg masses could accumulate on any tree trunk.
Officials say early detection is vital to managing the spotted lanternfly. Loudoun County residents are being asked to:
- Learn to identify spotted lanternfly in its different life stages.
- Look for spotted lanternfly egg masses from now to early spring by checking tree trunks, wheel wells, lawn furniture, fences, storage sheds, rocks and other smooth surfaces.
- Destroy the egg masses by scraping them from tree bark or any other surface and putting them in a container, such as a bag, filled with rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer. The egg masses can also be smashed.
- Learn to identify Tree of Heaven from other look-alike trees and remove female trees from your yard, using best management practices (BMP) to avoid clone reproduction.
- Share information about the pest with your family, friends, and others in your network to help raise awareness about the threat and what people can do to help stop the spotted lanternfly.
- Report sightings of spotted lanternflies and their egg masses.
Anyone who sees a spotted lanternfly or an egg mass is encouraged to report it to the Virginia Cooperative Extension, Loudoun Office, through this online form.
More information, including links to a variety of informational resources about the spotted lanternfly, is online at www.loudoun.gov/spottedlanternfly.
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