Spotted lanternflies will not hatch for months, but it is not too soon to launch a seek and destroy mission for lanternfly egg masses.
The idea is to kill the invasive pests before they can hatch and wreak havoc on trees and plant crops, said state Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Shannon Powers.
Searching for egg masses could also provide a good way for children and adults to beat back boredom during pandemic lockdowns, Powers said last week.
“If you want to get them out of the house, send them off on an egg mass hunt,” Powers said.
Spotted lanternfly is an invasive pest native to Asia that feasts on the sap of fruit trees and excretes a sticky mess on leaves and branches. Lanternflies were first spotted in Berks County in 2014 and have wrecked trees, plants and vineyards in southeastern Pennsylvania. They continue to spread across eastern Pennsylvania and bordering states.
Have lanternflies reached Luzerne County?
Possibly. Last year, Luzerne County was added to the state’s spotted lanternfly quarantine list, after the first confirmed report of a lanternfly in the county.
Owners of businesses that transport produce or goods within or outside the quarantine zone must obtain a lanternfly permit after taking a free online training course.
However, it looks like the sap-sucking pests did not reach Luzerne County in large numbers last year.
There were 503 public reports of spotted lanternflies in Luzerne County in 2020, and 82,884 reports statewide, Powers said.
Many of the reports in Luzerne County proved to be false.
“Reports in more recently quarantined counties are often false, but once the insects are commonly seen in an area, they are unmistakable,” Powers wrote in an email. “That’s why it’s so important to be vigilant to seek and destroy egg masses now.”
Lanternflies reached nearby counties to the south and east, including Northampton and Monroe, last year. It remains to be seen if they will spread into the Wyoming Valley this year.
How can we stop them?
The most important thing you can do is keep watch for lanternfly egg masses, destroy egg masses you find and report them to authorities, Powers said.
Destroying an egg mass can prevent dozens of lanternflies from hatching, she said.
Lanternfly egg masses look like a smear of mud or “dried, smashed bubblegum on the sidewalk” and can be found anywhere outside in an infested area, according to Powers.
To destroy an egg mass, scrape off the surface layer and squash the eggs underneath.
Egg masses can be destroyed with almost any object such as a pocketknife or the side of a credit card.
Anyone who sees a lanternfly egg mass should report it immediately, Powers said.
Reports can be made either by calling the toll-free lanternfly hotline at 888-422-3359, or online at https://extension.psu.edu/have-you-seen-a-spotted-lanternfly.
An agricultural emergency
A study conducted by the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences suggested that spotted lanternflies could cause the loss of about 2,800 jobs and cost Pennsylvania’s economy more than $300 million per year, if the pests are not contained.
The threat posed by spotted lanternflies is “an agricultural emergency,” Powers said.
State and federal authorities clearly take that threat seriously.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded Pennsylvania a $1.5 million grant through the Plant Protection Act to fight spotted lanternflies.
The grant will fund research, much of it through Penn State, Powers said.
The Penn State Cooperative Extension website features lots of information about spotted lanternflies, including how business owners in the quarantine zone may obtain a permit.