In the Epicenter of the Spotted Lanternfly Infestation

Guest blog by Laurel Downs, The Nature Conservancy

Last summer I sat on the back porch of my parents’ house along the Schuylkill River in Berks County, Pennsylvania and watched what I thought was a very peculiar weevil-like bug awkwardly wander across the floorboards. Gangling legs moved like feelers topped with a broad body that tapered into a mile-long face saddled with bulging black eyes.

Out came the smartphone for identification- identifying all things animal or insect is my favorite. Low and behold this creature was not an adorably awkward weevil but the nymph stage of a notorious new invasive – the spotted lanternfly. Spotted lanternflies are native to Asia, and they were first officially detected in Berks County Pennsylvania in 2014 (but they were likely meandering porches and tree trunks about two years prior to that.) The first three immature (called “instar”) stages give the nymph a black body speckled with white dots. The fourth and final instar comes with a vibrant red coloration throughout the body; it retains the red to some extent in the winged adult phase.

Well, you know what they say, once you’re looking for a white truck, you see them everywhere. (Do they say that?) Sure enough, my mom and I started spotting the goofy little buggers all over. Live ones, dead ones, and empty exoskeletons with circular holes in the top – maybe predation or metamorphosis?

A group of 4th stage instar nymphs in Berks County PA. Photo credit: L. Downs, The Nature Conservancy

Anyway, this year I stuck around long enough to see the nymphs turn into just-as-awkward, yet oddly beautiful adults. Appreciation for aesthetics aside, these invasive insects are more trouble than they’re worth. So much so that the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture asks for the public’s help in their spotted lanternfly alert in which they give the following advice for those who encounter the insect:

Kill it! Squash it, smash it…just get rid of it.

It’s important to note that in many places, you should both squish AND report these pests. Here in Berks county, we’ve had this pest for a while- but in many places, it’s very important to report it if you see them!

As a nature lover, killing is not a go-to task for me with any living creature, but with the SLF, it may be necessary considering the serious threat these insects present to our natural, agricultural, and cultural resources. The spotted lanternfly (SLF) feed on, and subsequently damage, many tree species and crops; to add insult to injury, they produce a sugary excrement known as “honeydew” in the process which attracts stinging insects and sooty black mold. At the very least, a generous coat of sticky-sweet bug poo everywhere can put a real damper on one’s ability to enjoy outdoor recreation, but SLF infestation poses an even greater threat to the health of our farms and forests- and they’re spreading.

An adult spotted lanternfly succumbs to a spider web. Photo credit: L. Downs, The Nature Conservancy

In 2021, PA expanded their SLF quarantine, and many nearby states are following suit. While the insect is able to fly, humans are likely to facilitate their spread in rapid fashion by unwittingly chauffeuring them and/or their eggs. Each female SLF can lay between 30-50 eggs which she will happily plop down on almost ANY outdoor structure; we’re talkin’ cars, RVs, lawn furniture, plastic flamingos (probably), camping gear, and you guessed it, firewood.

 

An adult spotted lanternfly hanging out on my tire as I gassed up my vehicle. I now notice them wherever I go in Eastern and Central PA. Photo credit: L. Downs, The Nature Conservancy

Luckily more and more Pennsylvania folk are recognizing this flamboyant bug and taking the necessary…um…steps…to, quite literally, squash the problem. It’s not much, but it’s an honest effort on behalf of the public to be mindful of their surroundings and the threats to our resources. It will take more, however, to contain the spread of these conspicuous troublemakers. Fall is upon us and this is when females begin to lay rather inconspicuous eggs.

So, if you are traveling anywhere this fall, make sure to check over your vehicle and recreational items before taking them across county lines. If you are living or staying in an area quarantined for spotted lanternfly, use this checklist to ensure you don’t leave with any tree-pest stowaways looking for new territory. And please, for the love of our forests, leave your firewood at home. Buy it where you burn it.

An adult spotted lanternfly taking a break from its destructive ways to sneak over my shoulder for a selfie. Photo credit: L. Downs, The Nature Conservancy

 

Helpful Spotted Lanternfly Links:

Changing of Lymantria dispar name

The Don’t Move Firewood outreach and education materials have included Lymantria dispar (formerly, gypsy moth) as a pest commonly moved via the firewood pathway since the campaign was launched in 2008. With the summer 2021 announcement of the removal of the old common name from the approved common names list held by the Entomological Society of America (ESA), we acknowledge that all our materials covering this species must be changed. Our outreach staff is working closely with the ESA to select and rapidly roll out a new and better common name. The ESA is currently estimating that a new name will be approved in January 2022, and therefore, the Don’t Move Firewood campaign is creating a name change plan to update all materials at that time.

We regret that this does leave the previous offensive name in place for additional several months- as a public outreach campaign, this is a difficult situation and it is an imperfect solution to plan to wait. Our decision to replace all relevant DMF materials comprehensively in January 2022 was made to minimize public confusion with this historical change.

For more information on this process, please visit the ESA’s Better Common Names Project page.

Top 5 Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week Ideas for 2021

The emerald ash borer (EAB) is an invasive beetle that infests and kills ash trees in North America. Right now, the EAB is found across most of the Central and Eastern US, as well as increasingly the Great Plains and Southeastern states. Once a tree has been infested with emerald ash borer for several years, it is very difficult to save that particular tree- but if caught early enough, ash trees in yards, parks, and streets can usually be successfully treated and protected. To help your community successfully find emerald ash borer infestations before they get so severe that they cannot be treated, we need your help!

During Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week (May 23- 29th, 2021) everyone is encouraged to take a few minutes to learn about the signs and symptoms of emerald ash borer infestation on ash trees, so that the infestations can be better managed by local tree professionals and foresters.

Here are our Top Five Resources for Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week!

  1. Check out this short and awesome video on how to identify ash trees and damage from the emerald ash borer: Emerald Ash Borer ID Video
  2. Do you need some more technical handouts? Check out the this comprehensive Resource list here at EmeraldAshBorer.info Publications and Resources
  3. Looking for kid friendly EAB resources like a coloring page or a bug mask? Look through our awesome “For Kids” page! 
  4. Want something quick to download for a social media account? Here’s a fun banner that works well for Facebook, Twitter, and more: 
  5. Or do you just want it all? Take a look at our Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week Toolkit, where we list all the Resources that we think can help you make it a successful week.

If you think you have found signs of emerald ash borer on your ash tree, click here to learn about how to report it in your state.

The best way to slow the spread of emerald ash borer and other forest pests is avoid moving firewood long distances. Instead, buy local firewood, buy heat treated certified firewood, or gather firewood on site when permitted.

 

(image credit for EAB image used in Facebook Advertisement, Spring 2018: Steven Valley, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org Image 5445431)

Firewood as a vector of forest pest dispersal in North America: What do we know, and what do we need to know?

Guest blog by David Coyle, Assistant Professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation, Clemson University

There are some astonishingly impactful invasive tree-killing pests present in North American forests. Some of these, like the emerald ash borer, are capable of potentially wiping out entire tree genera- as the damage they create reliably kills members of all the species of Fraxinus (ash). Likewise, the redbay ambrosia beetle (which carries laurel wilt, a nearly-always deadly vascular wilt disease) is capable of killing every species in the family Lauraceae – including avocado and sassafras trees. The Asian longhorned beetle infests trees in at least 12 different genera, including maples, willows, and poplars – some very common and important trees in both natural AND managed or urban areas. Other pests, like the European gypsy moth, are hugely damaging on the landscape (both ecologically, and financially) but are thankfully unlikely to cause the extinction of any given species of trees. Collectively, these forest pests cause billions of dollars in damage over time and countless ecological impacts, some of which we may not even know about yet. While all forest pests can spread by their own means across short distances, unfortunately, accidental transport by humans is one of the main ways they move more rapidly, and across larger distances.

And since you’re reading this blog on a firewood website, I’m going to assume you enjoy a good fire. Maybe it’s in your home, for pleasure or heat, maybe it’s in the fire pit outside, maybe it’s at deer camp or at a state park whatever – these fires need wood to burn. Unfortunately, many of the destructive forest pests currently found in North America can (and do) get moved in or on pieces of firewood. Some of them can survive at least 3 years deep in the wood- and some can even infest wood at any time, regardless of how old or seasoned it may be (see the guest blog on Dodds et al 2017, here). To that end, there has been a good bit of research on firewood pests, starting most intensely in the early 2000s when the emerald ash borer was rapidly spreading in North America. Since then, a variety of research on the topic has been completed and published, but no one has really holistically reviewed what is out there, what we know, and what we need to know – until now. This paper, Firewood Transport as a Vector of Forest Pest Dispersal in North America: A Scoping Review, in the Journal of Economic Entomology, led by Angelica Solano, a M.S. student with Drs. Shari Rodriguez and David Coyle of Clemson University, does just that. They reviewed the firewood pest literature from North America to see what we did- and didn’t- know, and found some very eye-opening things.

Did you know that most of the work on pests in firewood has been done in the Great Lakes and Northeastern U.S. regions? Additionally, a handful of studies have been done in the southwestern U.S. and in Canada, but almost none in the Pacific Northwest or Southeast. This is significant because there are plenty of wood-infesting pests in these areas too, and we have very little published science on what’s happening there. Yes, even folks in the South use firewood for heating their homes (it does get cold in higher elevation areas, and in winter) and “ambience” fires are pretty common too – not to mention all the campfires that happen at all the state and national parks for your s’mores, hot dogs, and general enjoyment.

Map of firewood studies research locations

Solano et al 2021, Fig 2. Location and frequency of research locations from the 24 articles used in the review.

The scientific community also doesn’t have a lot of established knowledge on how pest dispersal is affected by the movement of firewood. We know many pests can be moved, or can survive in cut wood, but how does human-mediated movement really affect pest movement at a population level? Likewise, we don’t know nearly enough about what the public knows (or doesn’t know) regarding this issue – which makes it very difficult to craft effective strategies to reach the right people with the right information. . In order to more effectively educate firewood users and make a difference in the spread of forest pests, we need to know how and what people are doing- and why they are doing it. And, unfortunately, there’s a big knowledge gap here.

At the end of the day, we know pests can be moved in firewood. Certainly, which pests we’re talking about will differ based on the location, the type of wood, how it was stored or harvested, and many other factors- but regardless of where you are, this is a possibility. We also know that people’s attitudes and knowledge can impact their decisions to move firewood long distances, and that there are inconsistent rules and regulations across states, regions, and countries. What would really be beneficial is continent-wide consistently held and enforced regulations regarding the movement of firewood, and a more informed public. Everyone knows it is better to lead with a carrot than to rule with a stick, so a focus on educating the public is, to me, the top priority.

So, if you’re reading this, please – enjoy that fire. Eat those hot dogs and marshmallows. But get your firewood locally.

This blog is summary by one of the authors of the study listed here:  Angelica Solano, Shari L Rodriguez, Leigh Greenwood, Kevin J Dodds, David R Coyle, Firewood Transport as a Vector of Forest Pest Dispersal in North America: A Scoping Review, Journal of Economic Entomology, 2021;, toaa278, https://doi.org/10.1093/jee/toaa278