The U.S. has a brand-new invasive insect to watch out for

Five Pennsylvania townships are under strict quarantine following the discovery of Spotted Lanternflies

By Lindsay Abrams
Published November 10, 2014 9:25PM (EST)
 (Holly Raguza/Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture)
(Holly Raguza/Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture)

Now, for the quarantine you probably didn't hear about: 5 Pennsylvania townships and 2 boroughs are on high alert after the state Department of Agriculture confirmed the presence of an invasive insect that threatens its grape vines, fruit trees and logging industry.

The Spotted Lanternfly, Lycorma delicatula, is about one inch long and a half-inch wide, and is native to China, India, Japan and Vietnam. The insect uses its "piercing and sucking mouthparts" to drain stems of sap while at the same time excreting a lot of liquid, leading to mold growth that can harm or even kill the plants. It's described as a weak flyer but a "strong and quick jumper," and it's done some serious damage in Korea, where it was introduced in 2006; it's since attacked some 25 plant species that can also be found in Pennsylvania.

The PDA first announced the threat last week, putting two townships in northeaster Berks County on quarantine -- effectively, that means restricting the movement of anything that can help it spread, including "firewood or wood products, brush or yard waste, remodeling or construction materials and waste, packing material like boxes, grapevines for decorative purposes or as nursery stock, and any outdoor household articles like lawnmowers, grills, tarps and any other equipment, trucks or vehicles not stored indoors."

Since then, the PDA's extended the restrictions to three other townships; it's estimated that about 30 square kilometers (11.6 sq. miles) across two boroughs may now be infested.

“Berks County is the front line in the war against Spotted Lanternfly,” Agriculture Secretary George Greig said in a statement. “Since this is new to the country we are taking every precaution possible.” Greig urged residents to report any sightings and send adult specimens in for testing. People who come across eggs are advised to kill them by sealing them in a container with alcohol or hand sanitizer.

People or businesses who fail to honor the quarantine face up to $20,000 in criminal and civil penalties, along with jail time. "We know we're asking a lot," Greig said, "but we know Pennsylvanians will assist us and help save our fruit trees, grapes and forests."

Lindsay Abrams

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