Invasive insect could threaten Michigan crops, trees

Cal Abbo
The Detroit News

Michigan agricultural officials warn that another invasive pest could be on its way to the state and are urging farmers and others to be on the lookout.

Since first being found in 2014 in Pennsylvania, the spotted lanternfly, an insect native to Asia, has spread to several other states along the East Coast.

"This insect could damage or kill more than 70 varieties of crops and plants including grapes, apples, hops, and hardwood trees," according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, which issued an advisory about the pest this week. 

Patterns on spotted lanternfly's wings

The department is asking has asked the public to look out for signs of the spotted lanternfly, which has not been detected in Michigan so far. Early detection, containment, and hopefully eradication will be crucial for protecting Michigan's agriculture and natural resources, said spokeswoman Jennifer Holton.

"We’re raising awareness so Michiganders and visitors to our state can help spot lanternflies," Holton said.

Holton added that it's common for MDARD to release information before any confirmed sightings of an infestation. "We can't be everywhere but we can utilize those who are out enjoying the beauty of Michigan's natural resources to help be our extra eyes," she said.

According to the advisory, "Spotted lanternfly egg masses resemble old chewing gum, with a gray, waxy, putty-like coating. Hatched eggs appear as brownish, seed-like deposits."

"Spotted lanternfly nymphs are wingless, beetle-like and black with white spots, developing red patches as they mature. Adults are roughly 1 inch long. Their folded wings are gray to brown with black spots. Open wings reveal a yellow and black abdomen and bright red hind wings with black spots transition to black and white bands at the edge," the release said.

Spotted lanternfly egg mass

Kim Hoelmer, a research entomologist for the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, lives in Delaware, one of the states where the lanternfly is present. This year, he found an egg mass on a grape tree in his backyard.

Hoelmer is researching ways to combat the lanternfly and focuses on understanding the insect's biology as well as finding and eventually introducing natural predators to control its population.

"We think one of the reasons the lanternfly isn’t much of a threat in China is because of its predators there," he said.

When the first lanternfly was seen in Delaware, the department of agriculture instituted "quarantines" to help limit its spread, Hoelmer said. The state required travelers moving out of a known infested area to get a permit before doing so.

According to Hoelmer, the permit was mostly meant to remind travelers to inspect their vehicles before they leave an infested area. Public awareness and mass action is the best tool for fighting the lanternfly'.

If you see what you think is a spotted lanternfly or an egg mass, the state agriculture department suggests taking photos, noting the date, time, and location of the sighting, and reporting it to or calling (800)-292-3939.