'Very messy pest': Triangle area on the lookout for spotted lanternfly

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ByCindy Bae via WTVD logo
Wednesday, July 6, 2022
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A leaf that smells like burnt peanut butter may not sound as delicious, but to the invasive spotted lanternfly, it's one of its favorite food source.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A leaf that smells like burnt peanut butter may not sound as delicious, but to the invasive spotted lanternfly, the Tree of Heaven is one of its favorite food source. It's why the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is treating it with a spray that they hope will prevent the unwelcomed guest from coming to the Triangle area.

"The reason the North Carolina Department of Agriculture is concerned about this pest is it will decimate vineyards if it's not treated," plant pest administrator Joy Goforth said. "It also eats more than a hundred other plants."

Last spotted in Kernersville, the spotted lanternfly was first identified years ago in Pennsylvania in 2014.

"Since then it has moved its way down south," Goforth said. "It's moved through 11 states, we knew to be on high alert for this pest."

Goforth said the NCDA&CS has been watching and surveying for years but once it got close to North Carolina, they knew it was imminent.

"We've been doing lots of outreach, lots of surveying, trying to look for it in general across the state," Goforth said. "Looking for areas that we believe would be the greatest risk of introduction."

Areas particularly vulnerable are wine producing regions, as the insect can feed and cause damage on more than 70 species of plants, including apples, roses and other landscape plants, according to the state.

Although the insect hasn't been detected in the Triangle, director Mark Weathington said how places such as the JC Raulston Arboretum would be targeted.

"Got a real economic impact because it hits a wide range of plants," Weathington said. "But the ones that are really affected a lot are orchard, fruit trees, and vineyards where it can really do quite a bit of damage."

The insect's not only pesky to businesses, but homeowners.

"They are a very messy pest," Goforth said.

He added that the insect secretes a sticky substance that attracts stinging insects and then turns to sooty mold.

July is when most of the insects will reach the adult stage and look for places to feed and lay eggs. But Goforth explained why you wouldn't see a swarm of flying spotted lanternflies in the summer.

"This pest tends to move most by hitchhiking," Goforth said. "On vehicles, campers, trucks to lay their eggs on. Due to the amount of tourism we have in our area, as well as the number of people moving here, it will likely just be a matter of time before we do get an actual report."

While it's only a matter of time before it spreads to the Triangle area, the state hopes to slow the spread with teamwork, including help from furry friends.

"They'll especially be useful this winter when it's harder for us to find a spotted lanternfly, but they can find egg masses for us that we can then destroy them," Goforth said.

The state said early detection and rapid response are critical in the control of spotted lanternfly and urge people to submit a picture through an online reporting tool if you see a suspect spotted lanternfly in North Carolina.

"We don't have any reason to believe that Kernersville's the only population in North Carolina," Goforth said. "They very well could be somewhere else, so we need all citizens looking for spotted lanternfly to know what the life stages look like."