Have you noticed more spotted lanternflies in York County? There's a reason for that

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

What’s black, white and red, and getting spotted all over? 

This notorious pest — the spotted lanternfly — has taken up residence in York County, and it could mean trouble for local farms and vineyards.

Spotted lanternfly reports increased fivefold in York County since last year, according to state Department of Agriculture data. 

“Lanternflies are increasing in this part of the state — this is the first year we’ve seen them all over Harrisburg,” said department spokeswoman Shannon Powers. “We knew that was sort of inevitable.”

As of Sept. 7, there were 3,559 public reports of lanternflies in York County and 21,706 statewide. At the same time last year, there were only 616 reports countywide and 74,000 statewide.

READ MORE: Spotted lanternflies are back: here's how to build a trap to eliminate them

That statewide decrease has some scientists scratching their heads. In some counties, including Berks and Philadelphia, the pest seems to be receding back into obscurity. So far, there's not an obvious explanation.

Spotted lanternflies, like most animals, have two main goals: eating and reproducing. In the case of this invasive species, they move where people go.

“They’ve been indiscriminate hitchhikers from the get-go,” Powers said. “If a car is in their way, they’re going to hop on that car and look for a place to eat and lay their eggs.”

The spotted lanternfly, sighted in York Township Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, poses a threat to Pennsylvania's agriculture industry. Bill Kalina photo

Whether in a forest or city, lanternflies latch on to any moving object they can.

In York County, the drastic increase in the bug could mean several things, Powers said. More awareness of the pest could result in a greater number of reports in York County. Additionally, laying eggs in hard-to-reach places like trees makes snuffing out lanternflies before they hatch difficult.

“We’re heading into the season where they lay eggs right now,” she said. “If you see those egg masses, which look like smears of wood putty or dried gum, scrape it off.”

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Although reporting can help scientists identify large pockets of the bug, reports are unconfirmed until investigated. Largely, Powers said, the state Department of Agriculture finds that in areas like York County people are very good at recognizing the spotted lanternfly.

In other areas where they are less common, however, people often will call in to report any black and red insect.

So what’s the solution? The state has a simple one: Squish them.

Or set up a trap on your property to kill a bunch of them all at once.

Reports of sightings can be made by calling 1-888-422-3359 or reporting online at services.agriculture.pa.gov/SLFReport/.

The tree-of-heaven, also known as Chinese sumac, is a favorite habitat of the invasive spotted lanternfly.

In addition to reporting and squishing, individuals who want to help stop these pests can use pesticide applications and remove tree-of-heaven, an invasive plant that can play host to the spotted lanternfly.

The tree-of-heaven has a light brown, smooth bark with large leaves consisting of 11 or more pointed leaflets stemming off.

Though the spotted lanternflies may look alarming — especially to those who don't like bugs — Powers assured that they can't hurt people.

“They don’t harm humans or animals,” Powers said. “They do damage and threaten the commerce in PA.”

Spotted lanternflies rest on a grapevine at Stony Run Winery in Berks County.

With a particular infatuation for grapes, lanternflies suck the sap out of woody vines and trees. Then they discharge a mass out of their bottom end — blocking photosynthesis, killing the plant and making the fruit inedible.

That's especially concerning for the state's burgeoning brewing and winemaking industries, since hops and grapes are prime targets for the insatiable lanternfly.

Larry Shrawder, president of the Pennsylvania Winery Association and a vineyard owner in Berks County, says he has lost 10 acres of vineyard land to the pest.

"At one point, we were concerned we wouldn't be able to grow grapes in the area," said Shrawder, the owner of Stony Run Winery. "We've been in the thick of it — being in Berks County."

Larry Shrawder, president of the Pennsylvania Winery Association and vineyard owner in Berks County, 10 acres of his vineyard land due to the Spotted Lanternfly.

For years, Berks was a hotspot for the spotted lanternfly.

Shrawder said he remembers a time when his grapevines would be completely covered by the invasive pest. Since the bug has shifted to Central Pennsylvania recently, it's been more manageable for vineyard owners like Shrawder.

It's all a learning curve, he said.

Three years ago, his team would spray insecticide every four days. Now, he only sprays every three to four weeks. 

For York County farmers who are now experiencing the bug in full force for the first time, Shrawder said they must act quickly and aggressively to save their crops. 

"It's farming. It's just one more pest we deal with," Shrawder said. "Farmers are pretty resilient, and we'll figure out what we need to do and take care of it."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.

With a particular infatuation for grapes, lanternflies suck the sap out of woody vines and trees. then they discharge a mass out of their bottom end — blocking photosynthesis, killing the plant and making the fruit inedible.