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Spotted Lanternfly Lands in U.S.

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The spotted lanternfly (SLF) is an insect with spectacular coloring, but that beauty comes with a cost.

This invasive pest has a taste for almonds, apples, apricots, grapes, peaches, and plums. SLF also likes to munch on hardwoods like oak, walnut, and poplar. Various estimates put the potential economic damage in the billions of dollars.

Originally found in China and North Korea, SLF was first sighted in the United States in 2014, in Pennsylvania. Currently, 13 Pennsylvania counties are under quarantine for this pest, and it has also spread to Virginia.

Researchers are hot on the trail of this invasive insect, known scientifically as Lycorma delicatula. The first working group meeting, attended by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists Tracy Leskey and Kim Hoelmer, was held in Reading, Pennsylvania, near the first SLF sighting. Scientists from ARS, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), and Pennsylvania State University gathered with local vineyard and orchard owners to assess SLF’s potential damage.

Leskey, an entomologist and laboratory director at the Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, West Virginia, is a co-director on the SLF Working Group grant. “I assisted the project director, APHIS’s Julie Urban, in organizing the meeting, chairing the industry panel discussion, and the discussions associated with development of research, extension/outreach, and regulatory priorities,” says Leskey.

Hoelmer, an ARS entomologist and research leader at the Beneficial Insects Introduction Research Unit in Newark, Delaware, is part of an international endeavor to control SLF. “With APHIS colleague Juli Gould, I traveled to China to find potential parasitic wasps that may be able to control the SLF population here in the United States,” says Hoelmer. “We found several candidates that are predators of SLF in China.”

Leskey and her team have work planned at Fort Detrick, Maryland, in biological quarantine facilities there. “We will be working on rearing protocols and colony development, host plant suitability, and impacts to fruit trees, as well as wild host trees often found at the forest edge,” says Leskey. “This work will be done in collaboration with Virginia Tech and Penn State, with some funding provided by the U.S. Forest Service. Further studies will complement those being conducted by collaborators at Penn State.”

In addition, Leskey’s group has some preliminary trapping trials in Pennsylvania. “We will be putting some up in Virginia, as well. This is a collaboration with our colleague Miriam Cooperband from APHIS, along with Pennsylvania State University and Virginia Tech.”

All of the research findings gathered by the international consortium of scientists will go far in controlling the potentially devastating SLF in the United States. —By Sharon Durham, ARS Office of Communications.

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