A Very Bad Bug


By Kit Flynn and Lise Jenkins

A pretty insect lays its eggs on a stone. That stone is part of a global supply chain that starts in Asia, arrives in Pennsylvania — and now threatens North Carolina’s tourism, wine and Christmas tree industries. A thin line of North Carolinians stands between us and this invading menace.

North Carolina’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has fielded teams of experts to join the east coast’s battle against Lycorma delicatula, commonly known as the spotted lanternfly. This invading pest is making life unpleasant for homeowners and spreading economic hardships from New York to Virginia.

Experts say it’s not a matter of if, but when, the pest arrives in our state. While North Carolina officials are prepared to meet this challenge, the department of agriculture is asking the public for help. Just two easy steps are all it takes: Pay attention while traveling through infected areas and report any sightings in our state.

It can be hard to connect the dots between a tiny insect and significant economic losses for our local industries. Here are some basics you need to know about this insect.

The spotted lanternfly damages trees and other plants by piercing their stems and foliage, sucking out sap and robbing the plant of needed nutrients. The insects excrete sugary waste, euphemistically referred to as honeydew that coats the plant. Mold colonizes the sugary honeydew, blocking sunlight and inhibiting the host plant’s ability to feed itself through photosynthesis. Other insects, such as wasps, ants and hornets are attracted to the accumulation of honeydew.

But it’s more than just sick plants and a sticky mess.

Lycorma delicatula, commonly known as the spotted lanternfly.

Whitney Swink, state department of agriculture entomologist, participated in a site visit to some of the most heavily affected areas of Pennsylvania. She had not anticipated how much homeowners have been impacted.

“You can be outside on a beautiful day but everything is covered with this awful sticky mess,” she said. “Entire buildings are covered, fences, cars are dripping. It’s everywhere and the smell is horrible, I hadn’t expected that.”

Some owners in affected areas are trying to sell their homes, but dropping property values are making it hard for them to escape.

Come fall the adults lay their eggs to start another generation. Because the matts of eggs look like wet mud or concrete, they can be hard to spot. The adults prefer to lay their eggs on hard, vertical surfaces, often including man-made materials. They seem to be good at hitching rides: Their eggs have been spotted in wheel wells of trucks, sides of trailers, shipping containers and materials in transit.

Areas suffering infestations in other states are now under quarantine. Businesses operating in these areas must undergo training and obtain special permits to move goods and equipment out of the area.

This insect looks very different at each stage of its life. When it hatches out in late spring it is small, only about 1/4” long, with a black body and white spots. Two months later it grows to about 1/2” long, transforming to red with white spots and black legs. Reaching adulthood in another two months, it’s approximately 1” long, has grey wings and spots with patterned tips. Despite its large wings, it hops more than it flies.

Together we can help NC Department of Agriculture officials protect our state from this unwelcome invader. If you see it, report it by email a photo and details to Badbug@NCAGR.gov.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: info@absentee-gardener.com

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