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Spotted lanternflies are hatching

Spotted Lanternflies.
Stephen Ausmus/USDA
Spotted lanternflies.

Spring has sprung in Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania and spotted lanternflies are hatching.

The bugs are an invasive species in Pennsylvania. They don’t harm people but are a plant stressor that causes major damage to a large variety of plant species.

“The best thing that people can do, and this is true of anything ... get some knowledge," said Vincent Cotrone, a regional urban forester and natural resource educator at Penn State Extension.

The university works with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to research and monitor the spotted lanternfly population.

The flies are native to Southeast Asia. They were first found in 2014 in Southeast Pennsylvania. They are plant hoppers, which means they will hitch a ride or lay eggs on cars and trucks and then spread. Researchers believe they came to the United States on a shipping container.

The bugs particularly enjoy woody vines. Their impact on the fruit and grape industry is a big concern, said Cotrone.

“What they do is basically suck plant food, carbohydrates, out of the plant," he said.

That sap has high amounts of sugar that the flies can’t fully digest. It’s not their diet that causes the biggest problems, it’s their excrement, called honeydew. It gets covered in sooty mold that blocks leaves and reduces photosynthesis, according to Penn State Extension. It can also cover decks and outside furniture.

Right now, the bugs resemble a big tick with white spots. But unlike ticks, Cotrone said, they're not carrying any disease.

Toward the end of the summer and into the fall, they molt into an around 1-inch red bug with translucent spotted wings.

Fifty-one of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties are on the state’s quarantine list for the bug. Cotrone said while you won’t typically find them deep in the woods, it’s safe to assume they’re everywhere.

Penn State Extension offers an array of research on how to help control the spotted lanternfly population. There are fact sheets and videos and guidance for using pesticides and other options like building a trap or putting sticky bands on trees.

“I don't think we'll ever get rid of it completely," Cotrone said. "We will manage it and that's the importance of ... us doing research."

For more details, visit Penn State Extension's website.

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.