Look out for lanternflies, they're dangerous hitchhikers

By Eric Houghtaling

In the past year, we’ve come to associate the word ‘quarantine’ with staying home to slow the spread of COVID-19. Many New Jerseyans may not know much of the state is under a very different kind of quarantine aimed to protect our crops, native plants and agricultural industry from a dangerous invasive species.

In these areas in Warren, Hunterdon, Mercer, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem and Somerset counties, people are asked to inspect their cars before leaving one of the counties for the presence of the spotted lanternfly, a harmful species that pose significant threats to agriculture and quality of life for residents of the Garden State.

The insect gets its name from its spotted white and red wings. The species is native to China and South Korea and is thought to have arrived in the United States — specifically Pennsylvania — in 2014. With New Jersey’s proximity to Pennsylvania, it was no surprise when the first reports of spotted lanternflies were confirmed here in 2018. Their presence has been on the rise ever since.

Thankfully, spotted lanternflies pose no threats to humans or animals. Some residents, after spending time outdoors, have found them clinging to their clothes or skin. The threat to native plants and crops, however, is significant.
Spotted lanternflies excrete honeydew, a sugary substance that encourages the growth of black mold that kills vegetation. This is a particular concern for farmers and growers in the agricultural industry, which plays a critical role in the Garden State’s economy. If the spotted lanternfly population continues to grow in New Jersey, which is a strong possibility considering the insects are excellent “hitchhikers” capable of latching onto cars or trucks, large crops could be damaged and agribusinesses could suffer.

These insects also affect residents in communities who could find it more difficult to enjoy the outdoors in the spring and summer months as these insects become nuisances in backyards, parks and recreation areas. Spotted lanternflies are known to swarm in the air, disrupting family time at outdoor restaurants and surrounding children on swing sets as they play. Their honeydew can coat decks and play equipment, leaving residents to spend an entire day cleaning it only to have the honeydew return days later.

This species is harmful to plants and crops, a persistent nuisance to residents and a threat to the quality of life to all who live, work and visit in New Jersey.

At the state level, we’ve taken steps to raise public awareness and advance legislation to improve our statewide response. As chair of the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, I recently led a hearing focused on spotted lanternflies in which we advanced a bill (A-1581) I sponsored to create a five-member Invasive Species Task Force.

The group would prepare a comprehensive invasive species management plan to guide New Jersey’s response to spotted lanternflies and other harmful species.

However, to fully eliminate spotted lanternflies in our state, we’ll need all residents to keep their eyes open to identify and eradicate this harmful species. Just as with any unwanted bug, they can be killed by squashing or spraying them with insecticide. Residents are also advised to remove and destroy any spotted lanternfly egg masses, which look like small grayish blobs of putty and are usually attached to trees.

To report a spotted lanternfly sighting to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, residents can email [email protected] or call 609-406-6943.

It’s imperative that we take action to prevent and control the spread of this harmful species in our state. As the weather gets warmer and we begin to spend more time outdoors, let’s all be on the lookout so we may protect our crops, our plants, our agribusinesses and our quality of life.

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