Vineyards and orchards face a whole slew of environmental problems that are controllable, but Albemarle County growers soon could face one that is less tractable — the spotted lanternfly.
Spotted lanternflies were found earlier this summer in Albemarle near railroad tracks close to the Rivanna Trail, and while there have not been any further findings in the county, the community isn’t out of the woods yet.
“It will be in Albemarle next year, that’s for sure,” Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent Adam Downing said.
The spotted lanternfly, or Lycorma delicatula, was first detected in Pennsylvania in 2014 and has been in Virginia since 2018. It is highly invasive and can spread rapidly when introduced to new areas, as it has more than 70 host plant species and a lack of natural native enemies.
Adult spotted lanternflies are about an inch and a half long and half an inch wide and have black legs and heads and yellow abdomens with broad black bands. The wings have black spots and dashed black lines at the tips. On the hind wings, scarlet and black sections are separated by white stripes. An adult female will have a red spot on the end of its abdomen.
They’re known to damage grapes, peaches, apples and hops. The VCE has said they are a “significant threat to area vineyards, orchards and hops yards” and that in mass numbers, they can be “a nuisance to homeowners and cause damage to landscape trees.”
“There’s going to be an eradication effort, but it’s a reproducing population where it’s been found,” Downing said. “So eradication is unlikely, but it’ll be tried.”
If people find the insect, they are asked to kill it, take a photo and contact the extension office at albemarle.ext.vt.edu/Spotted_LanternFly.
They are also asked to scrape off or smash egg masses, which are about 1 to 1.5 inches long, grayish-brown in color and covered with a grey, waxy coating. Adults lay their eggs in the fall. Eggs then hatch in the spring and early summer and undergo four nymphal instars before adults begin appearing in July, becoming abundant in August.
The lanternfly can lay its eggs on railroad cars, vehicles, wood pallets and even rock, which allow it to spread easier. They are particularly attracted to the tree of heaven, or Ailanthus altissima, an invasive plant species with a strong presence in Virginia.
The Albemarle extension office has been training volunteers and monitoring for spotted lanternfly at various sites across the county since April 2020.
Stephen Barnard, president of the Monticello Wine Trail, said they’re currently focusing on monitoring and showing wineries what they look like and how to identify the insect.
“Right now, it’s just trying to get as much information as possible, trying to identify it if we see it, and then reaching out to people that may know a little bit more about it and may help us,” he said.
Downing said there has not been any commercial crop damage reported thus far in Virginia.
“It’s in the field edges, but it has not yet resulted in really significant crop damage,” he said. That is likely to happen, but it has not happened in Virginia. It has in Pennsylvania.”
“We don’t want to put our head in the ground and pretend that it’s not here, because it is,” Barnard said. “There’s the question of making sure that it doesn’t do irreparable damage, and that we figure out how to deal with it before it does become invasive and really starts destroying people’s livelihoods.”