Searching for a deadly pest: Spotted Lanternfly

It’s a cold, blustery morning on the western branch of Keuka Lake. A gray pick-up with an orange utility light on top of the cab rolls to a stop in the parking lot of Hunt Country Vineyards. Tyler Johnson and Payton Iacobucci climb out, dressed in warm jackets, high boots and yellow safety vests, and crunch their way across the gravel.

Art Hunt, the owner of the winery, greets them. He gives them a printed map of the farm boundaries and a gator to use. Johnson and Iacobucci thank him. Then they climb into the gator and head off to look for spotted lanternfly.

The partners cruise along the perimeter of the vineyards, scanning the trees. Johnson points. They come to a stop, get out and head into the treeline towards a cluster of sumacs. Johnson and Iacobucci are primarily scouting for tree of heaven, Ailanthus altissima, which the adult laternfly prefers for laying its eggs. But this plant-hopping insect has also shown an attraction to trees like sumac and black walnut.

“I’m just looking around the area at the base of the trees to see if there are any spotted lanternfly or egg sacks,” says Iacobucci. This is the time of year when adults are flying about, looking for spots to place their eggs; they’re obvious and easy to notice. But the egg masses can be more difficult. They’ve been described as looking like “spackle” or “mud” or “waxy residue.” Over the winter, the waxy look begins to dry and crack, and the masses become even harder to find. The mud-like covering might fall away completely, leaving just the tiny pod-like eggs exposed.

“They don’t fly very far or very well,” says Johnson about the lanternfly. “So what they do is they climb to the top of the tree and then kind of float down to their new host tree. Right now they’re in the later life cycle. So we’re looking for mostly adults that are going to be hanging out at the base of the tree or crawling up.”

Johnson and Iacobucci finish their inspection and step back out of the woods. Johnson snaps a photo of the sumacs with his smartphone. He then starts typing away on the screen.

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