Invasive lanternfly

WINCHESTER — The invasive spotted lanternfly has the potential to wreak havoc on crops in Frederick County, but state and federal agencies are working to control or eradicate the pest before too much damage is done.

The non-native planthopper was first discovered in Frederick County in January. This was just the second known detection of the insect in the United States. The first U.S. spotting of the pest was in Pennsylvania in 2014.

This summer, the Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (VDACS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plan to conduct detection survey work and pesticide treatments in the Frederick County area to find and kill spotted lanternflies.

A public information meeting about the pest and the planned treatments will be held from 6-7:30 p.m. June 14 in the Frederick County Administration Building board room, 107 N. Kent St.

Elaine Lidholm, VDACS director of communications, said the meeting will cover why the spotted lanternfly is such a significant threat and what steps need to be taken to eradicate it. She described the insect as a “heavy feeder” that could have a devastating impact on wineries and orchards.

“It’s a new pest,” she said. “It is a voracious feeder, and it can do a lot of damage. It isn’t often that we combine with people like [Virginia] Tech and the Cooperative Extension to try to eradicate something, but this is one of those occasions that calls for it.”

The spotted lanternfly, Lycorma delicatula, is native to Southeast Asia. It prefers feeding on Ailanthus altissima, also known as the tree-of-heaven, an invasive species from Southeast Asia, but it also feeds on grapes, peaches, apples and hops. It does so by piercing the bark, stems and growing tips to suck out the sap, which can kill or weaken plants.

The spotted lanternfly also has the potential to be a serious nuisance to homeowners when it is present in high numbers.

While the spotted lanternfly feeds on a variety of plants, researchers believe it not only prefers the tree-of-heaven but may require feeding on it to successfully reproduce, so eradicating the trees is part of the treatment plan.

Residents who live in the area targeted for spotted lanternfly surveying and treatment have been sent letters. Participation in the program is free and voluntary.

According to the letter, VDACS employees will conduct tree banding detection surveys. This involves wrapping trees with a sticky band to trap the spotted lanternfly. Results will determine the presence of the insects in the area.

The USDA will oversee the treatment program, which involves pesticide application to the tree-of-heaven to kill spotted lanternflies. The trees also may be treated with an herbicide to eradicate them, which will hopefully prevent the spotted lanternfly from reproducing, according to VDACS.

“It’s too late to try prevention, so we are going to try eradication,” Lidholm said.

She said the spotted lanternfly has no known natural predators.

Residents can report findings of the spotted lanternfly at ext.vt.edu/agriculture/commercial-horticulture/spotted-lanternfly.html.

For more information, visit fcva.us/SLF.

— Contact Josh Janney at jjanney@winchesterstar.com