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Lanternfly Infestations Reported in Montgomery Township and Rocky Hill

By Richard D. Smith

Scientists expect $400 million in damage to trees, landscape, and agriculture annually in the Garden State

A Sunday morning in late July, on my Rocky Hill front porch, lay a lone insect.

Despite its perky color scheme (gray forewings and bright red hindwings, both decorated with black dots) the dead little creature seemed pitiable.

But then came a grim recognition. This was a Spotted Lanternfly: a relatively recent — but already feared — insect invader.

The Spotted Lanternfly is an invasive species native to China, Bangladesh, and Vietnam. In 2014 it was found in Berks County, Pennsylvania, and has since spread to The Montgomery News readership area.

I emailed detailed information plus a photograph to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. (Treatment Options). A week later, I read some related and disquieting local news: Spotted lanternflies had been discovered nearby, in Princeton. My little lanternfly was not alone.

(Editor's note: In fact, residents have reported dozens of lanternflies congregating on trees of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) in August and September around the Green Acres field in Rocky Hill, the area around the Trinity Episcopal Church of Rocky Hill, the D&R Canal towpath, and on private properties throughout Montgomery Township).

“They’re here, and they’re here to stay,” says John Cifelli, general manager of Unionville Vineyards. “They’re the new Japanese beetle or brown marmorated stink bug.”

Cifelli is among those with good reasons to dread the spotted lanternfly. Known scientifically as Lycorma deliculata, it’s anything but delicate: a voracious pest that feeds on some 70 varieties of trees and other plants, including maples and other hardwoods, and ornamentals favored by homeowners.

Even more worrisome are its predations on some plants with high agricultural value. Grapes are especially susceptible to these ravenous, fluid-sucking insects. Although the Unionville Vineyards wine production and special event facilities are headquartered in Ringoes, the company has extensive grape-growing acreage off nearby Province Line Road and Great Road.

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“Grapes are the big one,” says Prof. George Hamilton, Chairman of the Rutgers Department of Entomology and an expert on insect pests. In extreme vineyard infestation elsewhere in the world, he says, even robust vines have been depleted beyond saving.

The good news is: Spotted lanternflies are not dangerous to humans, pets, livestock, or wildlife. And they’re primarily “hoppers” that only fly short distances.

Lanternfly with nymph.

But, these hoppers are accomplished hitchhikers. Indeed, their initial journey to America from their native Asian habitats is believed to have been aboard a commercial shipment to Berks County, Pennsylvania in 2014. From there, they quickly spread to neighboring Bucks and, eventually, two dozen other Pennsylvania counties.

Prof. Hamilton says the insect’s range is being documented further and further east in New Jersey. He predicts spotted lanternflies, like the unrelated but similarly prolific brown stinkbugs, “will be a huge nuisance to homeowners.”

After feeding copiously on plant juices, the insects pass a “honeydew” secretion. It is not hazardous to humans or other animals. But the greater the infestation, the greater — and messier — the droppings. This secretion also promotes growth of a moldy black fungus. In a grim preview of what New Jersey may soon face, parts of southeastern Pennsylvania are seeing trees covered with the pests.

“That’s a huge jump from what we saw just last year,” Prof. Hamilton says.

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Interestingly, the spotted lanternfly’s victimization of a specific plant is providing a strategy for combating it.

The pest has a keen affinity for the tree of heaven, considered a junk plant and itself an invasive species now found far from its Asian origins. The spotted lanternfly may need the tree of heaven during its reproductive cycle. So, extermination efforts are being prioritized on applying insecticides to that tree.

“Lanternflies, like the unrelated but similarly prolific brown stinkbugs, “will be a huge nuisance to homeowners.” — Prof. George Hamilton of Rutgers University

Douglas Fisher, Secretary of the NJ Department of Agriculture, recently announced the NJDA is partnering with the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) to create spotted lanternfly field crews.

The NJDA advises the public that these crews “may seek permission to come on to a property where large infestations exist. They will have proper identification and follow proper safety protocols … Treatments will only occur on the tree of heaven, which the spotted lanternfly prefers and is believed to need to reproduce.” (Since 2018, more than 200,000 trees of heaven on some 19,000 NJ acres have been treated.)

The state urges citizens to help eliminate these pests – and now is a fine time to join the fight. Spotted lanternflies begin laying their small, gray, mud-like egg masses in early September. The masses can be easily scraped off trees, double bagged, and thrown away, or dropped into alcohol or bleach to kill them.

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The insects are also found on automobiles. Drivers should check around and under their vehicles before driving out of the area. (Commercial drivers are required to make and document these pre-trip inspections.)

NJDA crews have visited the Unionville Vineyards properties, says winery general manager Cifelli. He praises the state’s efforts. “It would have cost a billion dollars to get ahead of these insects and keep them on the other side of the Delaware River,” he says. “They really did a great job keeping them at bay for one or two yearly cycles.”

Now, difficult tradeoffs are looming. Unionville Vineyards and other wineries have “green” programs using environmentally-friendly insect treatments as sparingly as possible. The choice now facing all wineries is a stark one, Cifelli says: “Do you lose your entire vineyards in the spring or do you spray?”

The use of sprays will be industrywide, Cifelli predicts. California vineyards also are preparing for the inexorable spotted lanternfly onslaught. “If you buy a bottle of domestic wine in the future,” he says, “it will be from a vineyard that’s dealing with the same problem.”

The lonely spotted lanternfly on my porch may soon seem a visitor from simpler times. ■

NJ Department of Agriculture Email: (Provide date, location, and a photo if possible); Hotline 1-833-223-2840.

Videos on the lanternfly:

Rutgers Ag Extension Service

Rutgers has a full-time person devoted to spotted lanternfly reports. Email: (Information and photos received are automatically shared with NJDA.) ■


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