AMHERST, Ohio — The Ohio Department of Agriculture is asking residents around the state and Northeast Ohio to be on the lookout for eggs belonging to the spotted lanternfly, an invasive species that can damage and destroy grapevines, fruit trees and a wide variety of other plants.
The warning comes after an arborist discovered what he recognized as egg masses for the spotted lanternfly (SLF) in Amherst, said Ann Chanon, the Agriculture and Natural Resource Educator for Lorain County.
“In addition to contacting me, he contacted the Department of Agriculture and they immediately came out to the site and confirmed the likelihood of spotted lanternfly in Amherst. And it was located right along train tracks, which is one of the sites that we are concerned about, as these insects are very, very good hitchhikers,” Chanon said.
Samples of the eggs were tested and confirmed to be viable spotted lanternfly egg masses, Chanon said.
“Unfortunately, it's not a big shock to us, because we know this thing is a really good hitchhiker,” said Dan Kenny, Chief of the Division of Plant Health at the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA). “It can lay its eggs on lots of different outdoor items or vehicles and can move assisted by humans pretty long distances.”
About 50 egg masses were found, removed and destroyed at the location in Amherst, Chanon said. The masses are scrapped into an enclosed container and then destroyed with rubbing alcohol. Masses in hard-to-access locations are treated with a dormant oil spray.
“That's not to say that additional egg masses are not present, but we did due diligence to do a thorough search of the area,” Chanon said. “Subsequent searches have also gone out past the initial site to try to determine the extent of the spread. And fortunately, it seems to be, at this point, a localized event.”
Egg masses for the spotted lanternfly can be difficult to see, and they are only about half an inch wide and an inch to an inch-and-a-half long, Chanon said.
“They are kind of gray-brown in color, so you can imagine how well they can blend into the bark of a tree,” Chanon said. “An egg mass generally has between 30 to 50 individual eggs, and then it's covered with a layer — a protective layer that's deposited at the time when the eggs are laid.”
They can be found on plant material, as well as metal and concrete surfaces, usually at ground level, but they have been found as high as 30 feet above the ground, depending on the site, Chanon said.
“The good news is spotted lanternfly do not pose a direct threat to human health because they do not bite humans, or companion animals or livestock for that matter,” Chanon said. “But they do pose a serious threat to plant material — specifically, to our grape and orchard industries, as these are favorite plants of spotted lanternfly. They can also be found on some of our most common landscape plants.”
While they do not pose an immediate threat to trees, “if a tree is continuously robbed of nutrients by a lot of feeding year after year, that can cause a tree to die,” Kenny said.
“It feeds through a piercing, sucking mouthpart, almost like a straw that inserts into the host and then it'll pull out those sugars out,” he added.
After feeding, the insects release a black, sticky substance called sooty mold, which can attract stinging insects to the site, Chanon said.
“That can be a real nuisance if you have a population that's above your deck or maybe your car,” Kenny said. “You're going to get a lot of that…sticky stuff coming down from above.”
While Chanon said the lanternfly has not negatively impacted the production of grapes or fruit crops in Ohio yet, their presence for the last few years has caused concern for Ohio’s wine industry, which is the sixth-largest in the U.S., contributing more than $1 billion to the state's economy every year. More than 250 wineries across the state employ thousands of people.
The sites where the SLF was found in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County in September 2021 were near commercial installations, Chanon said.
“We think that they may have traveled to those sites by way of truck or rail, and the site in Amherst is right along a set of train tracks and basically in downtown Amherst,” Chanon said. “So we have not seen impact for agriculture yet. But of course, you want to raise awareness because this could very seriously and very negatively impact those industries.”
The SLF can lay egg masses on the underside of trucks and train cars, and those masses are easily moved long distances as a result, Chanon said.
“The concern is if folks have visited Pennsylvania and have been camping, they very well could have come into contact with spotted lanternfly and inadvertently brought egg masses back here to Ohio,” she said.
Now is the time to be on the lookout for the egg masses, as they typically hatch into juveniles in May and June.
“They’ll remain as a juvenile typically until early to mid-August, when they transition to the adult form,” Chanon said. “The adults do not overwinter, so we do not see any adults right now. We'll only see those in the fall and it's in the fall when the adults do most of their feeding.”
If you do spot an egg mass, Chanon said you should not attempt to destroy it yourself.
“ It's very important at this point that ODA is the one that's contacted and that ODA takes the lead in any kind of management strategies,” Chanon said.
The ODA has set up a website specifically for reporting SLF egg masses. When reporting a sighting, Chanon said you’ll want to include the specific location, preferably GPS coordinates, as well as your contact information. Kenny also said to take pictures.
“If it's a new location, we would send an inspector out to collect a sample just to confirm through the USDA's official protocols on a new location,” Kenny said. “The earlier we find these small infestations, the more likely we are to be able to slow it down from spreading on down the road.”
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