Invasive spotted lanternfly could hide in your Christmas tree

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ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — The spotted lanternfly was first seen in Pennsylvania in 2014, and then in Frederick County, Virginia at the beginning of this year.

The invasive insect has about 70 different host plants, including apples, peaches, and grapes — but also Christmas trees.

"It is a piercing insect, so it's going to be piercing into the sap of the wood, and then it secretes a honeydew that causes a sticky substance to be all over the ground and around," said Jason Cooper, a Horticulture Extension Agent with the Virginia Cooperative Extension. "It will cause damage in grapes, peaches, apples, hops, and other stone fruits."

It's the loss of sap in the plant that causes a decline in production. This time of year, you should be looking for egg masses.

"What it looks like is going to be a brown, muddy substance that is going to be on the bark of the tree," said Cooper.

It's easy to scoop the egg masses off, and dispose of them with water

"If it would hatch in your house, nothing would happen. It would essentially die off," said Cooper. "But really, the concern is, the way that spotted lanternfly moved from state to state and other areas is through the egg masses. And then when you dispose of your tree, you'd have egg masses that are out."

This insect is a major issue in Pennsylvania, and has been found in Winchester. Virginia Tech researchers are working to find ways to stop their spread.

The insect has no real natural enemies. Spiders and praying mantis eat it, but not enough to significantly reduce their population. A promising new predator has been brought over from China and is in quarantine, but it will be a few years before testing is over and it can be released.

Why a species from China? The Lanternfly is native to China, India, and Vietnam. It first showed up in the U.S. in 2014 at a stone yard in Pennsylvania.

Buying your tree locally ensures the protection of native species.

"We care for the tree all year long," said Laura Wolfe, the co-owner of Every Soul Acres Christmas Tree Farm. "It really makes it a super special opportunity for you to come out and select your tree from a local farmer, from a local farm that you can also enjoy on your own."

If you do find the insect, kill it, but don't stop there. Report it here to help experts track its spread.

The adults are described as one-inch long and a half-inch wide at rest. The forewing is grey with black spots. The hind wings have contrasting patches of red and black with a white band.