Spotted lanternfly moves in near Wilton
WILTON — The spotted lantern fly is moving closer to town.
The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station recently announced an infestation of the spotted lanternfly in New Canaan and a single adult insect in Stamford. In September, multiple adult lanternflies were found in Greenwich and a single adult insect, likely a hitchhiker, was found in West Haven.
“These further detections of populations of the spotted lanternfly indicate that this insect is finally here in Connecticut and raises concerns for Connecticut’s agriculture and trees and the detection of individual insects in other locations shows they are readily being transported into the state” state entomologist Dr. Kirby Stafford said in a statement. Single adults were detected in Farmington in 2018, and Southbury in 2019.
The sap-sucking insect can harm farm crops, including apples, grapes and hops.
Early detection is important, and the public is urged to report potential sightings of this invasive pest.
The spotted lanternfly is native to China, India, and Vietnam and has been found in several eastern states since 2014. In the fall, adults about 1 inch long can often be found congregating on tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus), willows and other trees.
Jackie Algon, a member of the Wilton Conservation Commission, has been researching the spotted lanternfly.
“Unfortunately, these insects are indiscriminate about where they lay their eggs, and any/everywhere is fair game, including playsets, cars, tools, etc.,” she said. “Because of this, the eggs are easily transported and the infestation is rapidly crossing state lines from where they were first identified in Pennsylvania.”
Fortunately, tree of heaven is not common in Wilton, according to tree warden Lars Cherichetti.
“There are some at Horseshoe Park near town center and along the southern Route 7 corridor as well as a few pockets of trees in other areas,” he said. “Spotted lanternfly has been a real nuisance in other communities. This may be a good reason to remove tree of heaven.”
Cutting down the tree is just what the agricultural experiment station suggests. Since the tree drops numerous seeds, the Nature Conservancy suggests pulling seedlings by hand before a taproot develops.
The spotted lanternfly was first seen in the U.S. in Pennsylvania, which has a large horticulture industry. Nurseries and individuals who purchase trees from Pennsylvania should inspect them carefully, the station said.
The Ailanthus tree is tall and spindly, and bears a resemblance to a palm tree. The lanternfly absorbs a toxic chemical secreted by the tree, which makes it distasteful to predators. Thus, birds leave it alone.
“If we eliminate the Ailanthus tree, we reduce the reproductive rate of the insect, and predators learn that it is not necessarily distasteful to eat,” Greenwich tree warden Gregory Kramer said.
The tree of heaven itself is an invasive species, brought to the U.S. in the late 1700s. It became a popular landscaping tree because of its rapid growth and absence of insect or disease problems, according to the Nature Conservancy. As a result, it has crowded out native plants.
“Invasive species are the second-largest cause of species extinctions in the United States,” Conservation Commission chairwoman Susan DiLoreto said. “Our native insect population is decreasing due to loss of native habitats and the increase in invasive insects and plants. Increasing native plant species boosts native insect survival.
“Invasive species are often successful in their new ecosystems because they can reproduce and grow rapidly or because their new environment lacks any natural predators or pests. As a result, invasive species can threaten native species and disrupt important ecosystem processes.
“A clear example is the emerald ash borer which arrived in packing crates from China in 2002 and spread throughout the U.S. leaving us with a devastated population of ash forests in under 20 years,” she said. Wilton has lost numerous ash trees.
“With the loss of ash tree forests, invasive plants thrived in the newly created understory disrupting the native ecosystem that once thrived under the ash trees,” DiLoreto said.
More information about spotted lanternfly can be found on the state Department of Energy and Environment Protection website and the University of Massachusetts Amherst holds webinars about the insects.
Anyone finding a spotted lanternfly is asked to take a photo, collect it if possible, and report it to ReportSLF@ct.gov.