The spotted lanternfly is a relatively new pest threat to the Staunton, VA, area, and we’re still learning about all the potential impacts this species will have for wildlife, agriculture, and other facets of the natural life in our area. Native to Asia, the spotted lanternfly may appear beautiful (or at least unique) in appearance, but there are important steps to take if you notice them.

The History of the Spotted Lanternfly

First spotted in the US in 2014, the Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is believed to have crossed the ocean on international goods transported from Asia. It has spread rapidly across the northeastern US, and its impacts are emerging as potentially dangerous for crops and agriculture in our region.

This insect is known for its striking appearance when wings are spread (though it camouflages well when its wings are closed). Adult lanternflies are about one inch long, with distinctive gray wings adorned with black spots and a bright red underwing. While their appearance might be captivating, their impact on the environment is anything but.

Local photo of spotted lanternfly on tree trunk in Staunton, VA
Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture,

The Threat of the Spotted Lanternfly

The spotted lanternfly is a significant threat to both agriculture and forestry. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • This pest feeds on a diverse range of plant types, including grapes, apples, stone fruits, and hardwood trees. Its broad host range allows it to cause substantial damage to both cultivated crops and natural forests.
  • Using their piercing-sucking mouthparts, spotted lanternflies extract sap from plants. This weakens the plants, making them more vulnerable to diseases and other pests. Heavy infestations can lead to reduced crop yields and even plant death over time.
  • As they feed, lanternflies excrete a sugary substance known as honeydew, which promotes the growth of sooty mold. This black fungus can cover leaves, stems, and fruit. It reduces the photosynthetic capability of the plants and preventing farmers from being able to sell their produce.

What to Do If You Spot a Spotted Lanternfly

Given the potential damage these insects can cause, it’s crucial to act swiftly if you see a spotted lanternfly in Staunton or the surrounding areas. Although they are currently quarantined in the state, there’s always a risk of them spreading. Here’s what you should do:

  1. Identify and Report. If you think you’ve seen a lanternfly, take a photo and report the sighting to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS). Accurate identification is crucial for tracking and controlling their spread.
  1. Inspect Your Property. Regularly check your trees, shrubs, and outdoor structures for signs of the spotted lanternfly. Look for adults, nymphs, and egg masses, which are typically found on tree trunks, branches, and even on man-made surfaces like vehicles and outdoor furniture. Egg masses appear as grayish-brown, putty-like patches.
  1. Destroy Egg Masses. If you find egg masses, scrape them into a container of rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer to kill them. This simple action can help reduce the population and slow their spread.
  1. Control Measures. For larger infestations, control measures like insecticides and targeted sprays are being developed to combat spotted lanternflies while minimizing harm to beneficial insects.
  1. Spread Awareness. Educate your friends, family, and neighbors about the spotted lanternfly. The more people know what to look for, the more effective we can be in managing and controlling its spread.