Spotted lanternfly makes landfall in Ohio; officials urge vigilance
Beth Burger, The Columbus Dispatch 23 hrs ago
It was a flickering neon light that may have attracted it. It’s likely the red and grey distinctive spotted fly hopped from a nearby rail car, which routinely runs about 50 feet away from the shop’s window.
Jason Kopras, an auto glass shop owner, found the spotted lanternfly on the windowsill of his business JK Auto Glass, in Mingo Junction.
It marks the first documented case of the spotted lanternfly in Ohio. If, and when, the invasive species becomes entrenched in Ohio, experts say it will have a devastating ripple effect on state growers.
“I said, ‘Man, it's the weirdest-looking moth I've ever seen. When I looked at it, it was dead. I picked it up, brought it inside and set it on my file cabinet for about a week,” Kopras said.
He tied it to a fishing lure as a joke.
“I kept showing people that came in because the design on this thing was amazing. I didn't know it was a nuisance," he said.
The spotted lanternfly, which is native to Asia, decimates almonds, apples, blueberries, cherries, peaches, grapes and hops, as well as hardwoods such as oak, walnut and poplar, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture. The insect is likely to find Ohio's weather ideal.
About a week after Kopras found the fly, Ben Long, 43, a mechanic who follows Ohio State University's extension Facebook group, immediately recognized the fly from posts online.
Long called Ohio Department of Agriculture's tip line on Oct. 19.
"I snapped a picture with my phone and texted it," The state ag department responded immediately, saying that insect was a spotted lanternfly.
"We determined that there are railroad tracks all around this location. We started looking in that area," said David Adkins, an inspection manager in the pest control section at the Ohio Department of Agriculture, who went to check for an infestation.
It didn't take long for him to find them.
"I think it was the second tree I looked at, there was a spotted lanternfly. It was an an Ailanthus tree, (also known as tree of heaven). So at that time, we dug a little deeper, found some more."
The spotted lanternfly favors an invasive plant as a its food source, the Ailanthus, which is also native to Asia.
The invasive plant often grows along cleared right of ways of railroad tracks. It's not easy to eradicate. The Ailanthus has a deep root system. If it's cut down, it just grows back. The plant has to be cut down and also treated with an herbicide. To remove it completely would be cost prohibitive for property owners, Adkins said.Hitchhiking into Ohio
Railroad tracks runs on both sides of Kopras' business.
"They need to do something about it. Spray these train cars with some kind of killing agent," Kopras said. "Get rid of these things. That should be a regulation they should have to take care of."
Last year, Pennsylvania authorities found spotted lanternfly eggs at the Norfolk Southern’s Conway Rail Yard in western Pennsylvania. Undiscovered egg masses were found there in spring 2020. There was a spot infestation just south in West Virginia, and now the detection in Ohio.
There are major railroads and interstates that provide pathways for the insects to travel.
Spotted lanternflies can hitch rides on cars and attach egg masses on stationary items. Pennsylvania has rolled out aggressive educational campaigns urging drivers to check their cars. The state first began dealing with an infestation in 2014.
They spotted lanternflies don't fly as much as glide. They can jump by about 25 to 35 yards.
"A lot of times, to get greater distance, these insects will climb up higher in the trees or up higher on a building, and then putting themselves off so that they can get greater distance," Adkins said.
Without an established population, "it's like looking for a needle in a haystack. ... It doesn't get easy until you get a heavy population. And that's what we're trying to avoid," he said.Not established yet
Upon finding the first spotted lanternflies, Adkins knew he would need a larger crew.
He returned with a team of about 20 staff members from agencies, including the Ohio Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio State University Extension. They all pitched in to do visual surveys and insect trapping.
About 40 insects were found after crews canvassed the area.
“Right now, it's not widespread at all. We just have the one area in Mingo Junction that we've identified as a potential problem area. We have not confirmed and established population yet. We have not found any egg masses,” Adkins said.
To be considered an infestation, Adkins said, egg masses would have to be found showing a complete life cycle. What to look for
While the insects may be beautiful to look at, both nymphs and adults annihilate plants. The spotted lanternfly feeds on the sap of plants. But then the insects produce a substance, known as honeydew, that they spew out, soaking the leaves. The honeydew prevents the plant from being able to photosynthesize. That leads to mold and rot, which kills the plant.
The life cycle of the flies begins as early as March, when the insects are solid black, hatching from eggs. By mid-summer, the insect is red with black stripes and white dots, about a half-inch in size, and preparing to transition from nymph to adult. From August, the insects grow into adults with wings. They lay eggs in the fall.
In the fall months, well into November, spotted lanternflies are easy to find. They are fully grown adults spanning about an inch in size.
State agencies are tasked with trying to squash an infestation before it begins. They have limited resources to do it as state revenue plunges amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"There's always a concern. Where are we going to come up with the money to do what we need to do?" Adkins said. "That's why we're trying to find this early when populations are small and we can eradicate it early in these small areas is very important, but we have to stay vigilant."
Adkins encourages Ohioans to contact the Ohio Department of Agriculture if they believe they find one of the spotted lanternflies.
So far, Kopras hasn't found any more spotted lanternflies.
"I look all the time," he said.
Ohioans can use an online form to contact ag officials or call the Plant Pest Control Division at 614-728-6400.