Spotted lanternflies hard to miss in Hagerstown

They're fast.

Go to smack one with a glove or step on one and the spotted lanternfly is likely to have faster reflexes.

Flyswatters seem to result in a better success rate, if the lanternflies are within reach and caught unaware. Crushing them underfoot is suggested.

The adult lanternflies began making frequent appearances — this season — at least a couple weeks ago in the Hagerstown area. Nymphs could be spotted outside earlier in the year, but the adults are hard to miss.

Kenton Sumpter, an entomologist on the Maryland Department of Agriculture's spotted lanternfly team, said people will need to learn to coexist with this invasive species as much as they can due to the sheer volume of spotted lanternflies.

"We're going to have to live with lanternfly," Sumpter said. It's not reasonable to be able to eliminate them from cities like Hagerstown and Elkton in Northeast Maryland.

In Washington County, the Hagerstown and Williamsport areas are heavily infested, Sumpter said.

Annette Cormany, horticulture educator for the University of Maryland Extension in Washington County, wrote that she's been getting many calls, visits and emails each day since April when the nymph state of the spotted lanternflies started hatching.

The calls are coming from all over the county and most towns have had outbreaks, Cormany wrote in an email. Areas near Hagerstown City Park have been particularly hard hit since that's where the species was first sighted locally and has become well-established.

Sumpter said it's important to take measures to slow spotted lanternflies' spread and stop them from reaching new areas.

Sumpter recommends destroying spotted lanternfly when found, particularly when they are on a vehicle such as a car, truck, boat or trailer.

Washington County was one of the areas added to the state's spotted lanternfly quarantine list in January, meaning folks are asked to do what they can to prevent transporting the bugs within the county and outside of the county.

The quarantine also means businesses moving within or through quarantined areas in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Delaware need to get a permit. Information about permits and residential checklists as well as other info about the bugs can be found through the University of Maryland Extension website.

Sumpter also asks that residents report sightings of the spotted lanternfly through the university extension's website. The sightings help ag officials track the species movement as they are expected to spread throughout the county.

The state's spotted lanternfly quarantine list also includes Harford, Cecil, Frederick, Carroll, Montgomery, Howard, Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Kent counties as well as Baltimore city. The quarantine list is about the size of the infestation, Sumpter said.

The state also keeps a list of jurisdictions with reproducing populations of spotted lanternflies. That includes Allegany, Kent, Queen Anne's and Wicomico counties, Sumpter said. But lanternflies are such hitchhikers it's only a matter of time before the rest of the state has verified reproducing populations.

What's the concern about spotted lanternfly?

Spotted lanternflies are not poisonous, don't sting, bite or transmit diseases, and "they've been shown to not cause plant death," Sumpter said. There could be damage to plant leaves and some trees could experience yellowing of extended branches, but not the die-back seen with pests like emerald ash borer or spongy moths.

But spotted lanternflies accumulate in large volumes that are a nuisance and they can harm Maryland's agriculture, specifically vineyards, Sumpter said.

Lanternflies have been found in orchards and vineyards, and to a limited extent in nurseries. Sumpter said he hasn't gotten calls about Washington County orchards having lanternflies yet but one local vineyard reported having lanternflies.

In Pennsylvania, grapevines have died though they are usually older vines or ones that were poorly managed, he said. While officials haven't seen that in Maryland yet, some Maryland vineyard owners in Harford and Cecil counties are reporting reduced yields this year and are blaming spotted lanternflies. The infestation in those counties is particularly heavy — those counties have been under quarantine since 2019.

Numerous spotted lanternflies on tree trunks by a railroad underpass near Pangborn Park on Aug. 4, 2022.
Numerous spotted lanternflies on tree trunks by a railroad underpass near Pangborn Park on Aug. 4, 2022.

The other major concern is the public nuisance posed by spotted lanternfly, Sumpter said. Aberdeen, Md., and places along the Susquehanna River like Havre de Grace and Perryville have thousands of spotted lanternflies people "have to live alongside and I field calls every day about how frustrated people are," he said.

Hagerstown's population of spotted lanternfly is growing to the point where people are experiencing thousands of the bugs, he said.

That's thousands of bugs flying around, landing on homes and people.

They also produce a "honeydew" secretion that can attract ants, bees, wasps, yellowjackets, bald-faced hornets and other stinging and biting insects that eat the honeydew, Sumpter said. When you see the honeydew, keep an eye out for stinging insects.

Sometimes you can see the tiny droplets or notice the lanternflies excrete the liquid, he said. It's essentially a sugar water byproduct from feeding.

The secretion can develop a smell when it's hot because it's fermenting, Sumpter said. It also can cause sooty mold to grow on grass, bark or buildings that is unsightly and can be difficult to remove. The mold is not a public health risk, he said.

What can be done about spotted lanternfly?

Cormany wrote that the folks contacting her want to know if the bugs are harmful to themselves or their plants and what they can do to control the spotted lanternflies.

In the past year, state agriculture officials met with residents in the Halfway and Williamsport areas, scraping off egg masses on residential properties and arranging agreements allowing them to return and spray a dormant oil.

But Sumpter said the ag department has shifted its focus to transportation-related businesses like warehouses and distribution centers to help slow the hitchhiking pest.

The extension website lists a variety of control measures, including crushing or stomping spotted lanternflies, drowning them in soapy water or rubbing alcohol, and applying insecticidal soap or neem oil to surfaces on which the spotted lanternfly feed and walk.

There's also information about EPA-registered insecticides, some of which may only be applied by certified pesticide applicators. The site states that those insecticides that are most effective for systemic control of the pests also are toxic to bees and fish and, in some instances, birds.

Sumpter recommends limiting human exposure to heavy chemical use.

"There's really not a call to use lots of pesticide to go and control spotted lanternfly," Sumpter said. "My recommendation is that folks destroy spotted lanternfly where they find it and make sure your vehicles are sanitary" to limit their spread.

"They are primarily hitchhikers," including surviving long trips on rail lines, interstates and local water voyages, Sumpter said.

Sumpter said he's heard of people using electrified rackets and, in New York, specialized backpack vacuums to address the pests.

The adults will die with the frost. That's typically in November, but as warmer weather lingers so will the adult spotted lanternflies, he said.

Then it's time to deal with the egg masses, which appear around October through April before typically hatching in May.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: Spotted lanternflies population growing in Washington County