Invasive species recently discovered in New York

The spotted lanternfly, native to multiple Asian countries, was recently confirmed to have been discovered in New York state. The species poses a significant threat to New York crops, especially grapes, apples and hops.

PORTLAND — This week, the New York Departments of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Agriculture and Markets (DAM) confirmed that spotted lanternfly (SLF), an invasive pest from Asia, has been found in Albany and Yates counties. Tim Weigle, specialist for the statewide integrative pest management department, is working with others at the Cornell Cooperative Extension Lake Erie Regional Grape Program in Portland to get the word out, so that as many people as possible can be on the lookout for this insect that poses a serious threat to the Lake Erie region’s major crops, especially grapes.

According to a statement released by the DEC and DAM, SLF was first discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014 and have since been found in New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia.

Weigle explained that SLF is native to Asian countries including China and Vietnam and that the species is believed to have entered the U.S. on a shipment of stone, most likely marble, that was imported. “When researchers were looking at the initial infestation, they tracked it back to a business, where they found old egg masses on the stone,” Weigle explained.

Since then, the species has spread to other areas of the northeast, and western New York is particularly vulnerable due to its proximity to Pennsylvania. “They’re such great hitchhikers,” Weigle said of SLF. “The person in Albany found it in her car when she was getting in. Her whereabouts was traced, and she’d been in the ‘quarantine zone’ down in Pennsylvania. SLF is a plant hopper, and it flew into her car and hitched a ride to Albany.”

Weigle added that it was just by chance that the Albany woman and the individual in Yates County spotted SLF. “These were just two people who happened to have read the information (about SLF) and knew what they looked like,” Weigle explained.

Just how easy is it for SLF to spread to the region? Too easy, according to Weigle.

“Between the adult SLF and the egg masses, any traffic from the southeast part of Pennsylvania where there’s a heavy population of SLF can bring them here. All it takes is one car or railroad car to bring them up here. We could be next,” he warned.

According to the statement released by the DEC and DAM, SLF lay their eggs on any number of surfaces such as vehicles, stone, rusty metal, outdoor furniture and firewood. Anyone who sees one is encouraged to email information, especially location, to spottedlanternfly@dec.ny.gov.

Weigle says SLF are “clumsy fliers” and mainly hop from plant to plant, which they can do rather quickly. He encourages people to take a photo and then, if possible, capture the insect and keep it until a response is received from the DEC. “They just feed on plants,” said Weigle. “They don’t bite humans or animals, so there’s no risk there.”

In the meantime, Weigle explained that researchers at Penn State and the USDA are looking for biological controls for SLF. “There are things that are keeping their population down in Asia, and it’s just a matter of identifying them here…the insects and diseases and mammals that keep the SLF population down in their home countries don’t come with them. Researchers are looking for any kind of biological control that may attack just the eggs. A number of insecticides have been found to be effective against them down in Pennsylvania,” Weigle explained.

Although New York has more restrictions when it comes to insecticide development and use, Weigle is hopeful that a solution can be arrived at before local crops are affected. According to the statement from the DEC and DAM, SLF is a destructive pest that feeds on more than 70 plant species including tree-of-heaven, maples, apple trees, grapevine and hops. “I never realized how much tree of heaven we have around here until I got involved,” Weigle remarked. “It can look a lot like sumac and it grows in a lot of the same spots. And in any of the grape-growing regions, we really don’t want to see SLF show up.”

Weigle explained that SLF, which are about an inch long, feed on the grapes themselves as well as on trunks and shoots of the vines. “They pull the sap out of the vines,” he said. “And they swarm feed. Up to 300 of these adult SLF can feed on one single vine. They may not kill it right away, but it definitely weakens it.”

In addition to stressing the plants they feed on, SLF also excrete a sticky residue that interferes with plant photosynthesis and hinders the fruit yield of plants. Although some biological controls are in the works, Weigle says it will be several years between the time they are imported and the time they’re actually released to ensure there will be no negative impacts of the biological controls.

“The biggest thing is that we are relying on the public to be the eyes out there and spot this. It’s better to spot one or two bugs than to have an infestation. We can deal with this if it’s just a hitchhiker. An infestation is a totally different story,” said Weigle. In addition to the insect itself, residents should look for sap oozing or weeping from open wounds of tree trunks, one-inch long egg masses that are brownish-gray, waxy and mud-like (when new) or brown and scaly (when old). Another tell-tale sign is a “honeydew” build-up under plants with black, sooty mold sometimes developing. Anyone that visits the Pennsylvania or New Jersey quarantine areas should thoroughly inspect their vehicle, luggage and gear for SLF and egg masses.

For more information, visit www.nyimapinvasives.org and email any suspected sightings to spottedlanternfly@dec.ny.gov.

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