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WV latest state to host population of sap-sucking Asian insect pest

Spotted lanternfly

The invasive spotted lanternfly, which attacks fruit trees, grapes, oaks, walnuts and poplars, has been discovered in eastern West Virginia, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials confirm.

An invasive insect from Asia that favors dining on an invasive Asian tree species, but is also a threat to vineyards, apple orchards and a variety of hardwood trees, has been detected in West Virginia.

A small population of the spotted lanternfly were discovered Oct. 30 in the Bunker Hill area of Berkeley County, and later confirmed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The discovery and confirmation make West Virginia the sixth state known to host the spotted lanternfly since the first U.S. population of the pest was found in the Reading, Pennsylvania, area in 2014. The insect is believed to have arrived there aboard a shipment of landscaping stones imported from South Korea.

In early 2018, the pest was detected in Winchester, Virginia, 12 miles south of the Bunker Hill population. Spotted lanternfly populations have also been confirmed in Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware.

“We have been surveying for this invasive pest for the past two years,” said West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt, who announced the insect’s arrival in the state on Wednesday. “We knew it was only a matter of time until the spotted lanternfly made it to our state.”

Leonhardt said the WVDA will soon apply for federal aid to enable creation of an action plan for controlling the pest.

The spotted lanternfly resembles a moth in its adult stage, but is neither a moth nor, as its name suggests, a fly. It is a member of the plant-hopper family, and spreads its range mainly by hitchhiking aboard cars and trucks, outdoor furniture, trailers, railcars and outdoor sports gear during its egg stage.

The pest sucks the sap from leaves, stems and trunks of trees and vines, taking in more sap than it can handle and excreting the bulk of what is ingested.

Native to China, India, Vietnam and several other east Asian countries, the lanternfly prefers dining on an invasive tree species with Chinese roots — the tree of heaven — in its new American home. The prolific, fast-growing tree of heaven arrived in the Philadelphia area in the late 18th century when it was sold as an ornamental shade tree. It is now considered a major threat to West Virginia’s hardwood forests due to its ability to quickly form thickets that choke out native trees.

But the spotted lanternfly is also known to dine on grapes, hops, apples, walnuts and a variety of hardwood tree species, according to the USDA.

“Our main concern is protecting the orchards and wineries in the Eastern Panhandle,” said Leonhardt. “Without proper management, the spotted lanternfly could have a devastating impact on these industries. We must act swiftly if we are to diminish their impact.”

The WVDA encourages landowners, especially those with numerous trees of heaven on their land, to inspect their property for eggs.

For more information or to report suspected spotted lanternfly occurrences, contact or call 304-788-1066.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at, 304-348-5169 or follow

@rsteelhammer on Twitter.


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