By Sheri Melnick, Pennsylvania Legislative Services | July 16, 2019


Governor Tom Wolf was joined by Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) Secretary Russell Redding and leaders in agriculture and entomology from PDA, Penn State University, and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to view the treatment being conducted across the commonwealth and highlight the administration’s efforts to combat the spread of the spotted lanternfly.


Gov. Wolf examined the destruction caused by the spotted lanternfly and learned about the commonwealth’s efforts to stop the destruction and prevent the spread of the insect which is native to Asia.


Heather Leach, spotted lanternfly extension associate with Penn State University’s Department of Entomology, spoke about the short-term solutions to stop the spread of the spotted lanternfly as well as the long-term solutions involving biocontrol, which treats the insect with a fungicide. She stated that spraying with a fungicide is currently taking place in the Norristown area. Leach commented that although there are commercial insecticides available for homeowners, she cautioned that it would be best for them to use organic remedies as the testing is still continuing to determine the effectiveness of insecticides available on the market.


Officials from PDA explained that the spotted lanternfly first entered the country in 2014 on pallets and commented that their presence in Harrisburg has been due to human transportation via trains or trucks.


Leach explained that ailanthus trees, known as trees of heaven, are a habitat of the spotted lanternfly and were brought to the US from Asian regions native to the spotted lanternfly because they can be planted along streets and grow quickly.


Leo Donovall, spotted lanternfly coordinator for USDA, noted that at the present time, the spotted lanternfly has only been found in the Mid-Atlantic region. He indicated that the USDA is partnering with PDA to help slow the spread of the spotted lanternfly.


Gov. Wolf asked what has had happened to the stinkbug. Leach explained that their population is declining and asserted that scientists believe this is due to an attack by parasitoids. She asserted that there is ongoing testing of two parasitoids to determine if they will be able to impact the growth and development of the spotted lanternfly.


Leach explained that the spotted lanternfly is about an inch long when its wings are spread. She stated that it cannot fly very far and moves primarily by jumping.


PDA officials explained that the spotted lanternfly will use a tree’s vascular system to pull fluids through its body and then reject some of that as sugar water. Leach stated that when this sugar water drips onto structures, they then become covered with sooty mold which has occurred in Berks County due to the prevalence of insect there.


Leach asserted that the grapevine is “one of the places where we have seen considerable damage” from the spotted lanternfly, which can attack a grapevine with about 400 insects landing on a single vine.


Gov. Wolf asked what types of grapes were impacted. Leach responded that mostly wine grapes were impacted, but asserted that although Concord grapes may be affected, they are a “little bit hardier.”


Sec. Redding explained how Pennsylvania has worked with partners in neighboring states and the federal government to understand the pest, and is continuing to also work with Penn State University scientists to understand the species and implement the proper control methods. He asserted that part of the plan to control the spread of the spotted lanternfly involves having individual residents be very vigilant in their approach to dealing with the insect. He described the spotted lanternfly as an “opportunist” which was first discovered in Berks County and has now been discovered in 15 counties, with Dauphin County being the most recent.


Sec. Redding applauded the governor for his interest in solving the problem of the spotted lanternfly and acknowledged his support of the partnerships established by PDA to help in those efforts.


Gov. Wolf commented that PDA has done a “phenomenal job” partnering with organizations like the USDA, Penn State, and Good’s Tree Service. He said, “One of the things we have to do is to protect the people of Pennsylvania and that is really what we are trying to do here.” He commented that the spotted lanternfly has been found in the eastern part of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and said that Pennsylvania is trying to figure out what best to do to stop the pest from spreading.


Leach commented that the spotted lanternfly has not only impacted fruit and grape growers but has also contributed to the environmental degradation.


Sec. Redding asserted that people should look at their hunting and camping gear to ensure that they do not have any spotted lanternflies in order to avoid transporting the insects to another location.


Gov. Wolf took questions from the press.


Can you talk about the main damage that the spotted lanternfly is causing?

Leach responded that the spotted lanternfly is a “piercing sucking feeder” and feeds on plant sap, depleting the nutrients of the plant and excreting sugar water. She explained that plants infested with the spotted lanternfly experience yellowing of their leaves.


What should people do to halt the spread of the spotted lanternfly?

Leach responded that they should report findings to PDA if they find the spotted lanternfly. She asserted that if it does spread to other counties, especially counties such as Centre or Erie where there are large populations of grapes, it is important to have PDA officials get there as soon as possible to help limit the spread and damage.