ALLENTOWN, Pa. — A bad bug is making life miserable for some Pennsylvanian residents and business owners. The spotted lanternfly has emerged as a serious pest since the federal government confirmed its arrival in southeastern Pennsylvania five years ago. It weakens valuable trees and vines by sucking the sap from them. It also causes problems for homeowners when it leaves its sticky, sugary waste all over pools and decks. The lanternfly is expanding its range. Infestations have been confirmed in New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia.
Pennsylvania homeowner Jim Wood has been fighting them with a modified wet/dry vacuum. But he says no matter how many he kills, they keep coming back. "It's close to 40,000 this year that I've killed. There's some days I just wanted to quit, because I'd come out and get four or five hundred, I even got 1,000 in one day, and the next day there's hundreds there again."
The insects threaten $18 billion worth of Pennsylvania agriculture, including tree fruit, timber, hops and especially, grapes. Researchers are studying ways to eradicate the pest
But Heather Leach, an entomologist who does lanternfly outreach for Penn State, says the lanternfly is not easy to wipe out.
Vineyard owner Dean Scott grows grapes for local wineries. He's been spraying insecticide on his vines in an effort to keep the bugs at bay, but worries he'll lose everything.
Heather Leach from Penn State says "so spotted lanternfly is an invasive insect that's now in the United States. It first came in in 2014 in one county in southeastern Pennsylvania. Flash forward to five years, and now we're in several states. And what's happening is we're seeing damage in tree fruit, we're seeing damage in vineyards, and even in timbers and people's back yards. Really this pest affects a lot of different industries and we're really struggling to control it."
Dean Scott from Bergeist Vineyard adds "you know, a lot of the vineyards that didn't do a lot of spraying in the beginning are totally gone. It's decimated every single vine in those vineyards. I'm fighting that by spraying, but I realize that that is the potential that could happen here, is we could lose everything. We have these little micro-vineyards that we can spend a lot of time and we put a lot of quality into what we're doing, and we're going to lose it if we don't figure out how to get rid of this thing."
What if the laternfly reaches California? Researchers at UC Riverside are trying to get ahead by testing whether a type of tiny wasp can help. Those wasps kill the laternfly.