A photo, taken last summer, shows a spotted lanternfly, along with another insect, balanced atop dark purple grapes on a vine at Waltz Vineyards Estate Winery in Rapho Township.
Zach Waltz, the winery’s operations manager, estimated millions of the bugs had made their way to his vineyard in 2020, an “exponential” increase from the previous year. They’d been showing up for several years, but never so many.
“It was pretty crazy, the transition,” he said. But the insects didn’t cause a panic.
“So far we have been able to deal with them enough,” Waltz said before offering up a reality check for anyone hoping the lanternfly problem is waning. “I think people just need to realize this thing is not going away.”
He’s not the only one who thinks so.
“We are way beyond the point of eradication,” said Heather Leach, a spotted lanternfly expert with Penn State University. “I don’t even know if it’s theoretically possible anymore.”
Lancaster County started contending with the invasive insects not long after lanternflies were first discovered in the United States —specifically in Berks County — in 2014. It’s believed that the bugs arrived there by piggy-backing on a cargo shipment from somewhere in their native habitat of East Asia.
There, lanternfly populations are kept in-check by natural predators, which aren’t found in Pennsylvania. Though local predators might start filling the void, with Penn State researchers recently announcing that praying mantises and chickens, among other animals, have been observed eating the bugs.
A lack of predators has allowed lanternflies to spread rapidly, Leach said. And that’s a problem for farmers because the bugs feed on plants. Farmers fear that could lead to lost crops, according to Liam Migdail, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
“The good news is that farmers now have more tools to manage the spotted lanternfly than they did when it first arrived ... and research is ongoing to improve those management practices and find new ones,” a statement from the bureau reads. “So while the pest remains a significant threat as well as a nuisance, farmers are better equipped to protect their crops against catastrophic losses.”
Waltz said his family has followed that research closely at their winery, adopting methods like targeted pesticide application.
So far, they’ve had success in preventing significant crop losses, he said. Experts had been especially worried about losses at vineyards because grape vines are a favorite food source for lanternflies.
“We know of other wineries that lost all of their grapes,” Waltz said, recalling the early years of the lanternfly invasion before the bugs reached Lancaster County. “Everybody was kind of terrified hearing all of those stories.”
Waltz credited researchers, like those at Penn State, with keeping local crops safe and urged continued funding for their work.
Officials at Pennsylvania’s Agriculture Department report receiving more than $34 million to combat the lanternflies since 2015 — much of that from the federal government.
A research plot in Landisville is among the sites where ongoing studies are taking place, Leach said, pointing to some promising early results, which may show that plants like hemp and fruit trees are not badly impacted by the bugs. But other crops, like hops and cucumbers, could be susceptible to lanternfly damage, Leach said, stressing that results are preliminary.
Locally, lanterflies likely will begin hatching in May, living out their first months as nymphs before reaching adulthood in midsummer. It’s then that lanternflies will begin “feeding like crazy" ahead of laying eggs in the second half of summer and early fall, Leach said.
“We are talking about a pretty high population growth,” Leach said, adding that winter was not cold enough to kill off eggs. “The egg masses can actually survive some pretty low temperatures.”
That prediction stands in opposition to some rumors circulating locally, specifically that fewer egg masses have been spotted, said Lois Miklas, a master gardener coordinator with the Penn State Extension in Lancaster County.
“It’d be nice if that were true,” Milkas said, guessing that eggs were instead laid in hard-to-see places, like high up in trees.
The experts shared all this information shortly after officials at the state Department of Agriculture announced the expansion of Pennsylvania’s lanternfly quarantine zone by eight counties — adding Cambria, Cameron, Franklin, Lackawanna, Montour, Pike, Wayne, and Westmoreland.
“The new eight counties are not completely infested, but rather have a few municipalities with a known infestation,” officials said.
That’s after a dozen other counties were added in 2020. Lancaster County has been in the quarantine zone since 2017.
The entire quarantine zone now comprises 34 counties throughout the state, with infested areas at all four of its borders — eastern, western, northern and southern.