The latest worrisome organism is an insect from East Asia named the spotted lanternfly, according to an article by The Washington Post. It’s a pest of agricultural crops, the forest industry, and it’s a major nuisance in residential and commercial landscapes. The adult is mauve colored with black speckles and belongs to a class named the planthopper, a sap-sucking pest.
While it is does not bite or give disease to humans, its mass feeding can seriously weaken trees. Its preferred host is called the tree-of-heaven, but it’s also attracted to oaks, black walnuts, maples, grapevines and fruit trees.
But the biggest problem the lanternfly causes isn’t necessarily the weakening of ornamentals. The insects exude a sugary waste called honeydew, and in their great numbers, this becomes excessive. Within a few days, honeydew draws a black fungus called sooty mold. In a yard, this can discolor decks, patio furniture, play equipment, arbors, vehicles and more. When the mold settles on leaves, a plant’s powers of photosynthesis are compromised.
The pest was found in southeastern Pennsylvania in 2014, and more than a dozen counties are quarantined, meaning companies that move material and trucks within and outside the zone need a permit.
Last year, the pest was found in Winchester, Virginia, where it most likely arrived on a shipment of landscape stone. In late May, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services implemented its own quarantine for Frederick County and Winchester. For now, it’s contained to a relatively small 17-square-mile area of Virginia. The Pennsylvania outbreak appears to have spread to parts of Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware.
The insect is here to stay, but its future is not predictable. Birds could learn to like it, and scientists may develop biological controls against it. Government scientists are studying whether a species of parasitic wasp from China could be used to reduce lanternfly numbers. There are reports of fungal pathogens attacking this planthopper.