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Asia-based Lanternfly could hurt East Coast ag industry

By By Aaron Hagstromin New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2018-03-13 22:29

If you spot it, kill it.

That's what Pennsylvania officials want you to do to stop the spread of the red, yellow and black spotted lanternfly that they say threatens $17 billion in losses to the state's agricultural sector.

Experts believe the insect may have originated in stone shipments from China, which it's native to, as well as to Vietnam and India. It can also be found in Japan and South Korea. The lanternfly first showed up in southeastern Pennsylvania in 2014. It has spread to 13 counties from six in the Keystone state. The seven new counties were added on Nov 3, 2017.

On Feb 7, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said it would give Pennsylvania $17.5 million to stop the insect from harming several important crops, including grapes, peaches and timber trees.

The lanternfly, also known as Lycorma delicatula, leaves trees streaked with sap-oozing wounds, as well as blackish mold and egg masses.

It is on the move. One was found in Delaware and one in New York State, last November. A female can lay up to 100 eggs.

On Jan 10, egg masses and multiple dead adult insects were found in a stone yard in Frederick County, Virginia. The insect threatens the local wine and beer industry.

The lanternfly's next stop may be bordering states of West Virginia and Maryland, according to state agriculture officials who are asking residents to be on the lookout. The bug "hitch hikes" on vehicles and cargo, experts say.

"We've seen a dramatic expansion in the range of this pest over the last year and we need to take decisive action to prevent the spotted lanternfly from spreading throughout Pennsylvania and into neighboring states," US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in February in a statement.

"This pest poses a significant threat to the state's more than $28 million grape, $87 million apple, and more than $19 million peach industries, as well as the hardwood industry in Pennsylvania, which accounts for nearly $17 billion in sales," the state's agriculture department said.

The inch-long insect jumps from plant to plant sucking out sap with its piercing mouth — which spoils a fruit's taste and weakens the plant. It also excretes "honeydew," a sticky substance that attracts a black, sooty mold that can further weaken the plant.  The insect lays its eggs in batches of 30 to 50 and has been reported on more than 70 species of plants, according to the University of Massachusetts' The Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment.

"The spotted lanternfly is the weirdest, most pernicious insect I've ever seen," said Tom Baker, distinguished professor of entomology and chemical ecology at Penn State, who has 40 years'  experience in entomology research.

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