Invasive spotted lanternfly continues to expand its range; pest officials ask for public’s help

by Kate Evans

The invasive spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) continues to expand its range as it threatens fruit trees, hardwood trees and crops in many states, including West Virginia,  Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.  The insect was first found in Pennsylvania in 2014.

The spotted lanternfly was first sighted in Berkeley County on October 2019 and in Jefferson County in May, 2021.  The insect was first reported in Morgan County in September 2021. 

Washington and Frederick Counties were added to the Maryland quarantine list for spotted lanternfly in January 2022.  Winchester and northern Frederick County, Virginia and Pennsylvania have large populations of the insect.

Agriculture officials have said that if the insect is allowed to spread that it could severely impact the country’s grape orchards, fruit trees, plant nurseries, ornamental trees and forest industries.

The spotted lanternfly sucks the sap out of stems and branches, weakening the plants, causing stunted growth and reduced yield, even killing the plants.   Their feeding leaves behind a sticky residue called honeydew that encourages a black, sooty mold to grow that can also cause plant damage.

According to information from the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, the trees that the spotted lanternfly feeds on develop weeping wounds with the areas of sap attracting other insects like wasps, hornets and ants. The spotted lanternfly feeding damage could kill plants and trees especially if combined with stressors such as drought, disease and other pests.

All states are asking for the public’s help in watching for the insect and stopping its spread.

Now in 17 states

Spotted lanternfly populations have currently been detected in 17 states: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia,  Pennsylvania,  Ohio,  Indiana, Michigan and Illinois, said James Watson, West Virginia Department of Agriculture Spotted Lanternfly Program Coordinator.

Watson said that there had been a real uptick in sightings of spotted lanternfly adult moth populations from mid-to-late August until the beginning of November when the frost settled in.  The insect has been confirmed in 11 West Virginia counties and all of the Eastern Panhandle counties.

Around 70-80% of the spotted lanternfly reports in Morgan County are right around southern Berkeley Springs in unincorporated communities with the majority of them outside of Berkeley Springs, Watson said.  He’s had one or two reports from between Great Cacapon and Paw Paw.

Watson said that the increase this year in Morgan County is due to the explosive population of spotted lanternflies present in the  surrounding counties of Berkeley County, Washington County, Maryland and Frederick County, Virginia.

Watson predicts over the next few years that there will be a heavy population of spotted lanternflies in Morgan County.

Egg masses

In winter the adult spotted lanternfly moths are dead, but people can help by checking for egg masses, Watson said.  They can be found on trees, vehicles,  stone surfaces, playground equipment, brick, trailers, outdoor equipment, patio and lawn furniture and other smooth surfaces.  Check materials before transporting them to another area, especially if they’ve been stored outdoors.

Spotted lanternflies congregate in the fall on tree trunks in groups of 15 to 20 to lay their egg masses. Newer egg masses will have a gray putty-like covering on top of them.  Older egg masses look like four to seven columns of 30 to 50 brown seed-like clusters. Eggs hatch in the spring and early summer.

The egg masses can survive over the winter and are viable from about October to July.  A single egg mass can hold 30 to 50 eggs so it’s important eliminate as many egg masses as possible.

At-risk trees and plants

Spotted lanternfly feeds on a wide variety of over 70 plants, crops and trees.  Those at risk include almonds, apples, apricots, basil, blueberries, birch, cherries, cucumber, grapes, hickories, hops, horseradish, maples, nectarines, oaks, peaches, pine trees, plum, poplar, sycamores, walnut and willow trees.  The adult and juvenile lanternflies  called nymphs prefer to feed on the tree of heaven. (Ailanthus altissima)

In West Virginia and surrounding areas the main trees and plants of concern are grapes, the Virginia creeper, red maple, silver maple, black walnut and sumac.  There are other maples having damage in Pennsylvania, Watson said.

Watson emphasized that people should remove the invasive plant host tree-of-heaven around their home and property.  It was an ornamental, but is now a common weed that grows in hedgerows,  shrubbery and along the forest edge.  It spreads rapidly and releases chemicals that prevent other plants from growing.  He noted that properties have less Tree-of-Heaven on them don’t have as many spotted lanternflies.

Look-alike plants

There are other beneficial plants that look like Tree-of-Heaven such as black walnut, sumac and butternut, Watson said. The alternate compound leaflets on each of the trees’  leaves are similarly shaped, but each has a slightly different shape, pointed tip and number of leaflets.

According to a West Virginia Department of Agriculture flyer, Tree-of-Heaven leaves can have 11-41 leaflets.  It only has a few leaflets at its base with teeth-the rest are smooth.

The staghorn sumac and winged/shining sumac leaves have 11-31 leaflets and 11-23 leaflets, respectively. Sumac leaves have serrated edges. The staghorn sumac also has the familiar fuzzy-looking red cluster.

The black walnut and butternut leaves have around 7-17 leaflets, but the black walnut’s end leaflet is often lacking. The black walnut’s round green fruit and the butternut’s pear-shape fruit that bear their nuts are easily identified.

Public to-do list

Watson stressed that the public should: 1) make sure they’re not transporting egg masses; 2) use an object to smash the egg masses they find and crush them; and 3) learn to identify the tree of heaven and cut it down.  Apply herbicide on the fresh-cut stalks right after cutting so they don’t sprout back. Mow the area regularly.

Residents should scrape the egg masses from surfaces, removing all the eggs from underneath the coating and double bag and smash them, then submerge the eggs in a plastic bag of alcohol or hand sanitizer. Use an old credit card, putty knife, screwdriver or similar item for scraping.

Weakens plants

If you find signs of the spotted lanternfly on your property,  notify your county extension office or your state Department of Agriculture.     Residents should kill all adult spotted lanternflies that they can.  Every insect killed is one less that can reproduce.  Watch for the nymphs in the spring.

Watson stressed that there is no spotted lanternfly aerial spray program and no trap that has a lure for the insects yet.

Where to report sightings

In West Virginia, report spotted lanternfly sightings to the West Virginia Department of Agriculture at 304-558-2212 or e-mail photos of suspected spotted lanternflies or infestations to

For Maryland, if you see egg masses or insects that look like the spotted lanternfly,  contact the Maryland Department of Agriculture at (410) 841-5920 or report it on their website at

For Pennsylvania, call the Penn State Extension Office hotline at 1-888-422-3359 (1-888-4BAD-FLY) or report a sighting on the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture website at

For Virginia, report a spotted lanternfly to this link: In Winchester and Frederick County, the spotted lanternfly is well established, and there is no need to report.