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The 1 bad bug you should knowThe 1 bad bug you should know

Spotted lanternfly destroys grapes and trees. Could corn and soybeans be next?

Mindy Ward

February 13, 2018

3 Min Read
PRETTY DEADLY: Don’t let the beautiful, colorful markings fool you. Spotted lanternflies like the one shown here are destroying crops in states like Pennsylvania, and researchers fear it could be on the move to the Midwest.Photo courtesy of Penn State University Extension

The spotted lanternfly may be making its way across the U.S., stopping to feed in corn and soybean fields.

Native to Asia, this invasive insect was first detected in Pennsylvania in 2014, according to Kevin Rice, University of Missouri Extension entomologist. It was the first time the insect was known to have appeared in North America.

The black-spotted bug has become such a problem that just this month, the governor of Pennsylvania asked for $1.6 million in the state’s budget to combat the pest. The goal is to protect the state’s $18 billion in ag economy, including apples, grapes and hardwoods.

The USDA is also anteing up funding for control, with Secretary Sonny Perdue recently announcing USDA would provide emergency funding to the state — $17.5 million — to stop the spread of the lanternfly. In just three years, the pest has spread to 13 counties in Pennsylvania, which raises concerns for Perdue. “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,” Perdue said in a press release.

Hitching a ride
Rice says the Eastern pest may be traveling greater distances and expanding its palate.

“We have seen it attach to metal. It is on railroad cars, semitrucks and automobiles,” he warns. “It can show up anywhere in the continental United States.”

More concerning is that the pest attacks more crops than researchers first identified. “This summer, to our surprise, we found it on soybeans,” Rice says. “It was feeding directly on corn and soybean plants. It also feeds on alfalfa.”

Identifying the enemy
The spotted lanternfly adult is approximately 1 inch long and a half-inch wide with its wings expanded.

It resembles a moth, but has distinct markings. The forewing is gray with black spots, and the wings’ tips are reticulated black blocks outlined in gray, according to Rice. The back wings have distinct patches of red and black, with a white band.

The legs and head are black; the abdomen is yellow with broad black bands. Lanternflies in immature stages are black with white spots, and they develop red patches as they grow.

Impacting crops, animals
Typically, this unique spotted bug feeds on grapevines and fruit trees, sucking out the nutrients in the leaves and causing them to die. “They produce a ridiculous amount of honeydew,” Rice says. The honeydew attracts sooty mold and borers, which blocks sunlight and inhibits plant growth.

Rice says the insect also contains the same chemical as the blister beetle — cantharidin — which is toxic to livestock. The concern is that if the spotted lanternfly moves into alfalfa fields, it can have the same impact on the livestock industry as blister beetles. Beetle-infested hay can create toxicosis in animals.

Calling for help
While the winged bug has not been reported in Missouri, Rice says farmers and landowners need to be on the lookout. It will take vigilance to keep this destructive pest at bay.

Spotted lanternflies are slow, clumsy fliers, making them easy to collect and capture. “If you see anything similar to these pests, bag them up and call me or a[nother] Extension person,” Rice adds.


About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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