Virginia Tech researchers work to stop spread of lanternfly

Published: Jun. 5, 2018 at 5:15 PM EDT
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A team of Virginia Tech researchers and state entomologists is working to stop the spread of an invasive insect that has the potential to seriously damage Virginia's grape and orchard industries.

The spotted lanternfly, an Asian insect, was first spotted in the U.S. in 2014 in Pennsylvania. It was first detected in Virginia in January.\

Virginia Tech entomologists, Eric Day and Doug Pheiffer, are busy studying the potentially disastrous insect.

"The name is kind of misleading because it doesn't have a lantern and it's not a true fly," Day said. "It belongs to group of plant hoppers called lanternflies."

These teeny tiny creatures were found on several different types of plants in Winchester, Virginia.

"It's not really in a pest family, but it's a pest in a big way," Pfeiffer said.

The biggest population of this bug in the United States is in Pennsylvania, but researchers worry it will continue to spread because the bug often lays eggs on hard surfaces like cars and trains.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has urged landowners to inspect trees and plants for signs of the insect and report sightings to their local extension offices or to the department.

The ramifications of this plant hopper on crops could be worse than the 17-year cicada phenomenon.

"The big difference is the 17-year cicada comes every 17 years," Day said. "Whereas, once the spotted lanternfly becomes established, it's there every year."

It also feeds on over 70 different types of plants including grapes, peaches, other stone fruits, hops and tree of heaven, which means this bug could cause dramatic crop reduction and lower the quality of crops.

"It's kind of a dual pest," Day said. "It's a pest on crops and a nusience pest on humans. "

It doesn't sting or bite, but is still annoying for people. Pfeiffer says that in Pennsylvania, it's become a huge quality of life issue.

"The people don't want to let their kids out of their houses," he said..

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