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Spotted Lanternfly a Concern for Growers

(Lansing, MI) - The presence of an invasive species considered a significant threat to makers of wine and honey had been confirmed for the first time in Michigan.


The spotted lanternfly also turned up recently for the first time in northern Indiana after emerging last year in the southern part of the state.


Cliff Sadof, a Purdue University professor of entomology, said the risk posed by the migration is also significant for producers of walnut trees.


He said spotted lanternfly feeds on more than 100 different plants but can only reproduce while feeding on walnut trees, grape vines, and trees of heaven.


The one-inch-long winged insect native to Asia was first discovered in the U.S. in 2014 in Pennsylvania.


The insect sucks the sap and other juice from grapevines, which can significantly damage the crop.


"Spotted lanternfly populations feeding on wine grape vines can severely reduce winter hardiness or kill the crop altogether," said Elizabeth Long, assistant professor of horticulture crop entomology at Purdue University.


Honey can have a smoky taste or smell and become less sweet when tainted by secretions of honeydew from the spotted lanternfly. The honeydew finds its way into honey from bees who ingest the sugary substance if nectar from flowers is in short supply.


Long said makers of wine and honey should keep a sharp eye out for the species so measures can be taken early to limit the spread.


Beekeeping equipment is a good place to look for the eggs of spotted lanternflies, said Brock Harpur, who's also an assistant entomology professor at the West Lafayette campus.


"Should the spotted lanternfly become established in all parts of Indiana, it is expected that honeydew, the secretion that spotted lanternfly leave behind, will become part of our late-summer honey harvest," Harpur said.


A small population of spotted lanternflies in Michigan in Oakland and Pontiac counties near Detroit was confirmed by USDA on August 10. According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the species was primarily contained in a small, wooded lot.


"They have already completed pesticide applications of the impacted area," said Michael Phillip, director of MDARD's Pesticide and Plant Management Division, "Early detection gives up more tools in the toolbox for response and containment."


The spotted lanternfly in Indiana was recently confirmed in Huntington along some railroad tracks. Railroad cars and semi-trucks are among the known carriers of the insect confirmed in Indiana for the first time last year in Switzerland County near the Ohio River. 


Sadof said spotted lanternfly eggs looking similar to a splash of mud are easily overlooked on large vehicles traveling from state to state.


Long said several insecticides used by grape growers for other pests also work in controlling the spotted lanternfly, and their numbers are not large enough right now to require additional sprays.


Other steps already underway to limit their spread include removing trees of heaven native to Asia and spreading across the U.S. Trees of heaven is a favorite food source for the insect. According to MDARD, a significant but isolated number of trees of heaven were discovered where spotted lanternflies were found recently in Michigan. The insect also feeds on trees and plants, including black walnut, river birch, willow, sumac, and red maple.


According to experts, any spotting of the red and black colored insect should be reported immediately to the proper authorities. People are also encouraged to check the outside of their vehicles for the insects and their eggs before driving off and park with their windows closed to prevent the species from getting inside.


Experts said egg masses should be scraped into plastic bags containing hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol to kill them.

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