CHARLESTON — The presence of spotted lanternflies has been confirmed in a fourth West Virginia county, after a homeowner in the Capon Bridge area of Hampshire County spotted the invasive insect and reported its presence to the state Department of Agriculture.
Since the tree-eating pest was first detected in the United States in eastern Pennsylvania in 2014, it has spread into eight more states, making its first known appearance in West Virginia near Bunker Hill, in Berkeley County, in late 2019. Spotted lanternflies have been found in Jefferson and Mineral counties prior to last week’s sighting in Hampshire.
Native to several Asian nations, the insect is believed to have arrived in America in a shipment of imported goods before spreading through 34 Pennsylvania counties and into New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio.
The insect prefers to feed on another invasive species with Asian roots, the tree-of-heaven, which also first arrived in the U.S. in eastern Pennsylvania. Since it was imported to the Philadelphia area from China and sold as a fast-growing shade tree, it has spread throughout eastern and midwestern states, including all of West Virginia. Spotted lanternflies also feed on grapes, apples and apple trees, hops, walnuts and other hardwood tree species, as well as ornamental plants.
According to James Watson, the spotted lanternfly coordinator for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, the insect is a threat “to agriculture, forests and forest health in general.”
Watson said his agency has been treating trees in the Eastern Panhandle over the summer to control the spread of the pest, and will shift to keeping track of egg masses deposited by the insect and tree-of-heaven sites during the winter.
The state Department of Agriculture encourages landowners to inspect their property for adult spotted lanternflies, which will be active for a few more weeks as they lay grey egg masses. Land known to contain numerous trees-of-heaven and grapevines is especially vulnerable to the insect.
Adult spotted lanternflies are about one inch long and have oval-shaped, off-white wings with numerous dark spots as well as a pair of smaller reddish inner wings that are also spotted. Their mouths and head shape enable them to pierce tree bark and suck sap from inner tissue layers. In addition to damaging and destroying trees and other plants, the insects excrete a sugary substance that attracts other insects and promotes the growth of sooty mold fungi capable of discoloring lawn furniture, cars and farm equipment.
Watson said any spotted lanternflies found by property owners should be killed onsite and reported to the state Department of Agriculture through its insect pest email account, firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 304-558-2212.