An unofficial report has identified a living, adult spotted lanternfly (SLF) in Davis, California. “We have a recent report, unofficial, from someone familiar with the identification of this pest,” said UC Cooperative Extension Entomologist Surendra Dara. “(They) found this, a live adult insect, in California on a tree.” The insect was found on a tree in an urban area next to a hotel in September 2019.
The find is unofficial and does not mean there is an established population of SLF in the state. AgNet West was told last year that several dead SLF had been found at a California airport, but this is the first living report of the insect in the state.
It’s possible that an adult spotted lanternfly could survive a hitchhiked ride from infested East Coast areas to California, but Dara said it’s more likely that the lanternfly came about here in the state. “I think that is a logical assumption, to think that there was an egg mass that came from the infested area and some insects emerged from it,” he said.
Infested Areas and What It Feeds On
The good news for California is that other states have had a single, living adult SLF find and have avoided an infestation. The pest was originally found in 2014, in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Fourteen counties are now under SLF quarantine in the state and the USDA has confirmed infestations in Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. USDA has also confirmed single finds in New York and Massachusetts but has yet to find an infestation in those states.
The insect has a very wide host range, both agricultural and urban plants and trees. Dara said the tree of heaven seems to be its first choice, but grapevines are also of high preference. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has categorized the possible hosts to grapevines, fruit trees, and hardwoods.
What SLF Can Do to Hosts
The biggest issue with the pest is the sheer numbers of an infestation. “Not only are they a large insect, but they also infest in large numbers. You might have some of the videos where there are thousands of insects on one tree,” Dara said.
The pest is a planthopper and feeds directly on the plant. Dara said constant and high infestations can be deadly. “For the vineyards, it is actually weakening the plant…and in some cases, it can kill the vines,” he said. “I have heard that some operations have gone out of business because they haven’t been able to keep their vineyard going after infestations for two or three years.”
Identification Key for California
California’s wine industry has been keeping an eye on this pest. It was a portion of Allied Grape Growers’ annual meeting presentation and was also a topic at several educational sessions around the state. The discovery of a living adult signals the need to take scouting up a notch. “It has a brightly colored body and the wings have spots which give it its name,” Dara said. “But it is a very distinct large planthopper and we don’t have anything similar to it in California. It is very easy to identify.”
Dara produced the video in this article to help people identify the insect. If you spot the insect, you are urged to contact your local USDA or UCANR office and report the find immediately.
Listen to Dara’s interview.