This Invasive Bug Could Hurt Pa. Beer and Wine Production

A spotted laternfly. | Photo via Emelie Swackhamer, Penn State University, Bugwood.org

The spotted lanternfly is wreaking all kinds of havoc across Pennsylvania.

The invasive planthopper, native to China, India and Vietnam, was first found in Pennsylvania in Berks County in 2014. Officials with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania Game Commission have attempted to quarantine the bug — but it’s become a regional and (potentially national) pest.

The spotted lanterfly feeds on more than 65 species of plants (including vegetables) and is a threat to timber, tree fruit orchards, grape, stone fruit and berry production — plus, researchers are now saying that it can kill hops. Read: It’s threatening to hurt Pennsylvania beer and wine production.

Funded by the U.S. Deptartment of Agriculture, researchers at Penn State Extension are conducting an expansive study on the potential harm of the spotted lanterfly. They say the state’s $4.8 billion grape and wine industries are at risk.

Among other things, the researchers are attempting to determine whether it makes more sense for grapevine owners to absorb crop damage from the bug — or to invest in a costly insecticide spray.

“There is a lot we don’t know about the pest’s basic biology and ecology,” Erica Smyers, who’s leading the project, told Penn State News earlier this summer. “Once we better understand these aspects, we will be able to develop better traps and tools to manage these insects in and around the vineyard.”

The state is home to more than 250 wineries and vineyards. The study is being conducted primarily at Manatawny Creek Vineyard in Berks County. There, researchers have set up a quarantined site — inside a larger quarantined area — where they’ve placed spotted lanternflies with 80 Chardonnay vines inside large mesh cages.

In three years — between 2014 and 2017 — the spotted lanternflies overall quarantine zone has expanded out of Berks County to 6,900 square miles. (You can use this tool to see if you’re in the quarantine zone — Philadelphia is.) The bug was recently found in Delaware and New York as well. The Pennsylvania Deptartment of Agriculture has more information on what to do if you see a spotted lanternfly.

The research project in Berks County is expected to wrap up in fall 2019.

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