Keeping it Green: Spotted Lanternfly on the move

PHOTO COURTESY OF ERICA SMYERS Spotted lanternflies, seen here feeding on a grapevine, threaten Pennsylvania agricultural crops and forest products.


We have been here before with invasive insects running amuck in the Commonwealth. Back in 2007, the emerald ash borer (EAB) was identified in western Pennsylvania (started in the Midwest). It would feed on the trees and tunnel into the vascular (plumbing) system, resulting in death within three to five years.

At the time, Pennsylvania was home to over 300 million ash trees (forest and residential settings). To prevent dispersal, quarantines were set up in Butler and Allegheny counties to limit the spread across the state. This regulated the movement of firewood out of the quarantine area to keep this pest from spreading.

As the years progressed, additional counties were included in the quarantine as EAB marched eastward. By 2011, quarantines were lifted as EAB had spread throughout Pennsylvania and surrounding states.

Jump to 2014 when an individual spotted a colorful and unusual insect in Berks County. A sample was submitted to authorities and it was identified and named the spotted lanternfly (SLF). While EAB targeted ash trees, SLF has a broad host range including fruit, ornamental and woody plants and is a threat to the state’s agriculture and forestry industries. If not contained, the estimated economic impact on Pennsylvania is $324 million annually.

PHOTO COURTESY OF PA DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE Adult spotted lanternfly. This is an invasive insect that first arrived in the U.S. in 2014 in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

Like the EAB, this insect originated from Asia. And just like 2011, quarantines were set up to prevent further infestations in the state but not only firewood but to include plants, plant-based materials, and outdoor household items.

With this effort, businesses/organizations that operate in or travel through quarantined counties are required to obtain a spotted lanternfly permit. A permit shows other businesses and states that a company has done its due diligence to avoid transporting the pest to new areas.

Initially, the quarantine and eradication efforts appeared to keep the SLF hemmed in southeastern Pennsylvania but it now appears to be marching westward.

This month, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) added 12 counties to the spotted lanternfly quarantine, creating a total of 26 counties under a state-imposed quarantine. Locations are quarantined when evidence of reproducing population SLFs, such as an egg mass, is found by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

It is important to note that these new counties are not completely infested, but rather have a few municipalities with a known infestation, which led to a quarantine being placed on the entire county. This action is taken as a precaution and reflects the importance of awareness for early detection and stopping this pest in these new areas.

PHOTO PROVIDED Counties in color are under a Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture quarantine for spotted lanternfly.

It is critical that we do our part to prevent further spread of this insect to new areas. If you see it, destroy it, take a photo if possible and make note of when, where and how many were seen. Then, report it by calling the spotted lanternfly hotline at 1-888-422-3359 or report it online at https://extension.psu.edu/have-you-seen-a-spotted-lanternfly. Newly found spotted lanternfly populations will be intensively managed by the Pennsylvania and U.S. Departments of Agriculture with the goal of local eradication.

To learn more about the spotted lanternfly including pictures, visit the Penn State Extension website at https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly.


Tom Butzler is a horticulture educator with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service and may be reached at



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