The spotted lanternfly, an invasive species with potentially big consequences for some popular Virginia crops, was discovered near Winchester, Virginia in January. In response, researchers and scientists from multiple Virginia agencies and the USDA are working to develop control strategies to slow its spread across the state.

“Right now we’re in the phase of vigilance,” says Eric Day, entomologist and manager of the Virginia Cooperative Extension Insect Identification Lab. “We have learned a lot about the spotted lanternfly from research conducted in South Korea and Pennsylvania, but we don’t know if their control strategies will work in Virginia. We’ll have to look for it and keep track of where it spreads.”

The spotted lanternfly, or Lycorma delicatula, is native to northern parts of China and was detected in Pennsylvania in 2014. Day notes that, based on its success in Pennsylvania, the spotted lanternfly will likely survive Virginia’s winter temperatures. In Pennsylvania, egg masses have survived a few polar vortexes.

The January discovery of the spotted lanternfly near Winchester came thanks to the Virginia Department of Agriculture’s efforts to track shipments of goods from Pennsylvania that may spread the insect–called a “trace forward.” Measures have been taken to remove the spotted lanternfly at the Winchester site, though further monitoring is necessary to see if it has spread.

“The spotted lanternfly was discovered near Winchester in a non-crop situation. In Pennsylvania, it took about three years from detection in a non-crop situation to start seeing crop damage, although we don’t know if it will be the same for Virginia,” says Day.

“If you think you might have found a spotted lanternfly, report it!” says Day. In Virginia, any sites where the spotted lanternfly is identified are currently subject to a voluntary quarantine, and the Virginia Department of Agriculture will assist any farmers or shippers who find the insect on their property.

Day notes that winter is not a good time to look for the spotted lanternfly as its egg masses can be hard to recognize, but when temperatures begin to warm up, gardeners can check for juvenile stages of the insect. Day suggests tree of heaven (or ailanthus) as a good place to look for the spotted lanternfly.

According to Day, the USDA is currently evaluating an egg parasite known as a natural predator of the spotted lanternfly for feasibility in controlling the fly in the US.

“In Pennsylvania we’ve seen it on grapes, hops, stone fruit, and it’s also showed up on apples,” says Day, though he emphasizes that the spotted lanternfly will not make it impossible to grow these things in Virginia.“It’s just another pest growers will need to be aware of and take measures to protect against.”

If you would like more information on the spotted lanternfly, or if you think you might have identified one on your property, please see: https://ext.vt.edu/agriculture/commercial-horticulture/spotted-lanternfly.html

For the Virginia Cooperative Extension fact sheet on the spotted lanternfly, please see: https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/ENTO/ENTO-180/ENTO-180.html