An adult spotted lanternfly. Photo courtesy of Eric Day, Virginia Tech.

Virginia’s backyard pest, the spotted lanternfly, has expanded into seven localities in western Virginia since 2022.

The spotted lanternfly is an invasive species in the United States. It feeds on crops and plants, including grapes, apples, hops, walnuts and hardwood trees, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. It’s native to China and has been documented dating back to the 12th century. 

It was first detected in the U.S. in 2014 in eastern Pennsylvania, according to Virginia Tech researchers, and was first spotted in Virginia in January 2018 in Frederick County. 

Eric Day, an insect specialist at Virginia Tech, said the spotted lanternfly has moved into western Virginia by traveling on goods transported through the state.

“If you look at the map, it looks like the spotted lanternfly is following I-81 and railroad lines, and that is almost exactly true,” Day said. “All the new detections have been along these transportation corridors.” 

The cities of Radford, Roanoke and Salem, and Roanoke, Bedford, Campbell and Amherst counties are areas that have known populations of the spotted lanternfly but are not yet considered to be in quarantine by VDACS.

In Southwest and Southside, Lynchburg, Wythe County and Carroll County have been a part of a state quarantine since 2022. 

“There are two levels of quarantine in Virginia,” Day said. “Counties with a small isolated population, in that case, we’re monitoring. The other counties’ populations have risen to a level that has triggered a quarantine.”

When a spotted lanternfly is found in an area that is not quarantined, it is important to contact the local Virginia Cooperative Extension office, Day said. The next step is to try to get a picture or preserve the spotted lanternfly in alcohol so an agent can confirm if the lanternfly is in a new area. 

Jason Fisher, the agriculture and natural resource extension agent for Halifax County, said the increase in calls about the spotted lanternfly from Lynchburg, and now Bedford and Amherst counties, has been overwhelming. 

“It has a huge impact on our local offices,” Fisher said. “In areas that are not in quarantine, we do want information from those locations.”

In places like Lynchburg and Wythe and Carroll counties, the extension office no longer needs reports since it’s already known that the spotted lanternfly has arrived. 

“They want it reported so that they can get on it right away and eradicate it so it won’t spread,” Fisher said.

Michael Wallace, director of communications at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, wrote in an email that to slow the spread of the spotted lanternfly, businesses that move regulated items in quarantine areas are required to complete a training session and get a permit so they can ensure that no spotted lanternflies leave quarantine. 

Regulated items that need to be inspected before they’re moved outside quarantined areas include nursery trees, lumber, construction materials, shipping containers and outdoor household equipment, Wallace wrote. 

Spotted lanternflies in their early nymph stage, typically seen in April through July. Photo courtesy of Eric Day, Virginia Tech.

Dale Bennett, president and CEO of the Virginia Trucking Association, is helping his members get the correct training and information about the spotted lanternfly. 

“They [VDACS] are coming to our annual meeting in September, to have a booth and speak briefly to our members about the problem,” Bennett said. “We’re working with them to get the word out and emphasize to people that if we don’t get this thing under control, it could have a devastating impact on the agriculture industry.”

Vineyards are also dealing with the spotted lanternfly, and a few detections have been made by vineyard owners, Day said. 

“They are training their workers on it, getting information out,” he said. “Keeping an eye on it and on the borders of their property and on their grapes as well.”

Once a spotted lanternfly population is established at a vineyard, the growers must scout the vines and control the pest, Day said. The insect will feed on grape vines and other plants, causing them to lose water and nutrients, Wallace wrote.

A plant that has been targeted by spotted lanternflies will exude a sugar-filled liquid, called honeydew, that attracts wasps, ants and bees. It also creates an environment suitable for fungi to grow, like sooty mold that can impact plant health and fruit quality, Wallace wrote. 

Christine Vroorman, the owner of Ankida Ridge Vineyards in Amherst County, said she has not seen the spotted lanternfly in her vineyard but is watching for it. 

“The general recommendation to all vineyards is to kill the host tree, Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima),” Vroorman wrote in an email. “We have been told that if we do see one to report it and to kill any that we see.” 

Spotted lanternflies in their late nymph stage, which is typically seen in July through September. Photo courtesy of Eric Day, Virginia Tech.

The tree of heaven — itself an invasive nonnative species — grows quickly and easily and is very common in Virginia, including in cities, which has helped make the spotted lanternfly an urban pest, Fisher said. 

Work is underway to help get rid of the invasive plant to stop spotted lanternflies from moving to more areas of the state, Fisher said. 

Virginia Cooperative Extension is researching the use of a fungus called verticillium to naturally kill off the tree of heaven. The fungus causes the tree to wilt in around two months and does not harm other plants around it, Fisher said.

Insecticides can be used to control the spotted lanternfly in yards, the Virginia Tech Department of Entomology advises. Those containing dinotefuran and imidacloprid can be used after trees and shrubs flower; they’re not effective against egg masses. 

Organic treatments can also manage spotted lanternflies. These include neem oil, natural pyrethrin, insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, paraffinic oil and dormant oil.

Contact insecticides including bifenthrin-ortho, carbaryl, zeta-cypermethrin and malathion can be used as a spot spray for clusters of adults or nymphs. The best time to use these is May through early July. 

“It’s just a pest, it doesn’t bite, it doesn’t sting,” Fisher said. “The agriculture industry stands to lose the most.”

Amy Jablonski is a summer news intern for Cardinal News based in Lynchburg. She is a junior at the University...