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Spotted lanternfly, a crop-killing pest, is hitchhiking and hopping its way to the Midwest

Frank Witsil, Detroit Free Press on

Published in News & Features

Invasive species are not a new problem.

When Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 he initiated what historians now call the Columbus Exchange, a transfer of ideas, diseases, crops, and even populations between the New World and the Old World.

The spotted lanternfly — what ag departments have been calling SLF — was first detected in southeastern Pennsylvania in 2014 but appeared to have been in the United States for two to three years already. They are about an inch long and half an inch wide, with eye-catching wings.

When their wings are open they show a yellow and black abdomen and bright red hind wings with black spots transitioning to black and white bands at the edge. Egg masses look like old chewing gum, with a gray, waxy, putty-like coating.

The bugs, which hop more than fly, likely arrived in America aboard a shipping container.

Since then, the bug has spread to Delaware, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, West Virginia, Connecticut, and Ohio.

Earlier this year, one was spotted in Indiana. It was the farthest west the insect has been found.

California, which produces many crops the spotted lanternfly could destroy, declared a quarantine to prohibit the introduction of the spotted lanternfly into the state. It's not clear how much good that will do, but California said the most likely way for it to spread is through its egg cases.


And New York has deputized residents in its fight to stop it, launching an app to log where they are found.

Earlier this month, a kid in Kansas pinned one on a 4-H display at the state fair.

If the spotted lanternfly enters Michigan, it could affect Michigan’s agriculture and natural resources, damaging more than 70 varieties of crops and plants including grapes, apples, hops, and hardwood trees. In subdivisions, it leaves a stick, stinky residue on trees that attracts mold and other critters.

Pesticides can kill it, but it will also kill other things, too.

In Michigan, if you find spotted lanternfly eggs, nymphs or adults, take photos, make notes of the date, time and location of the sighting, and report it to the state department of agriculture at or 800-292-3939. If possible, collect a specimen for verification.


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