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Invasive lanternfly wreaking havoc in the Northeast poses big threat to Michigan plants, crops

Invasive species can cause major damage to an ecosystem. They compete with native flora and fauna for resources, and often lack any natural predators to control their populations. 

Michigan biologists are monitoring one invasive insect that isn't yet in Michigan, but will likely make its way to the state at some point.

It’s called the “spotted lanternfly." The largest population to date is in Pennsylvania, but the colorful insect has also been spotted in a few nearby states. 

Heather Leach works with the Department of Entomology at Penn State University, and she joined Stateside to talk about this extremely destructive insect.

What is the spotted lanternfly and how did it get here?

The spotted lanternfly is native to various parts of Asia.

“It has a very cryptic egg stage, and so we believe it was imported here on stone, and nobody noticed it until it was able to hatch out in the spring and start feeding on our plants here,” Leach said.

What does it look like?

The spotted lanternfly could easily be mistaken for a moth, but it’s actually classified as a “planthopper.” It bears distinctive marks at most stages of its life cycle.

“Both in the nymph stage and in the adult stage, they’re bright red in some cases, and have these very iridescent white spots in other cases,” Leach said.

What kind of damage does the spotted lanternfly cause?

This “piercing-sucking insect” feeds on sap and sucks the nutrients out of “practically any kind of species of tree and plant," Leach says. 

Researchers in Pennsylvania are concerned about the insect’s effect on ornamental and landscape trees, and on forest regeneration. But vineyards are where they’ve “seen the worst economic damage so far” caused by lanternfly infestation. 

“We’re seeing an almost 200% increase in insecticide application costs from spotted lanternfly alone, just in the past two years. So per acre costs, it’s gone from $54 to $147 an acre for these grape growers to actually try to maintain control and keep spotted lanternfly from damaging their vineyards,” Leach explained. 

What can you do to help?

Leach says that it’s important to stay aware of the possibility that spotted lanternflies could one day show up in your community. 

“Next time you go out on a hike, next time you go to the lakes, take a look and try to find this insect. And if you do see it, report it to the Michigan Department of Agriculture,” Leach said.

(The state has instructions for reporting a spotted lanternfly sighting here.)

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Isabella Isaacs-Thomas.

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