One call to arms in Paul Verhoeven’s brilliant satire Starship Troopers is, “The only good bug is a dead bug.” That’s particularly true for the invasive spotted lanternfly — a pest native to China that’s now spreading through Virginia and the DC region.
Lanternflies are fond of foliage and fruits grown here: apples, black cherries, plums — and grapes, which makes for a potential nightmare for the commonwealth’s bustling wine industry.
Infestations have been spotted in Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties. Prince William County, Manassas, and Manassas Park have established quarantines on the pests, as have many counties to the west.
Michael Wallace, communications director for the Virginia Department of Agriculture, says lanternflies start to hatch in the spring. They target many different trees and shrubs, with their favorite host being the erroneously named tree of heaven, another invader native to China.
Be wary of more than just greenery. Lanternflies can infest anything you leave outside.
“This may include, but is not limited to, grills, lawn furniture, playground equipment, [the] underside of decks and roof overhangs, cars, sheds, and yard equipment,” Wallace says.
Look for dark, sooty mold on low-lying foliage and the ground. It’ll be stinky, too. The honeydew the bugs excrete when they eat gives off a “fermented, vinegar smell,” Wallace says. Tree bark will get very dark, “and you may see whitish ‘goo’ building up towards the base of the tree.”
The best way to fight the bugs? Wallace says to squish them and their eggs. Eliminating tree of heaven plants is encouraged. And check your vehicles, outdoor equipment, and landscape to help slow the spread.
So, Virginians: Do your part. Kill ’em all. And report sightings to your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office.
This story originally ran in our May issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to Northern Virginia Magazine.