HARFORD COUNTY, Md. - An invasive insect is now swarming trees across Maryland and threatening the state's vineyards.
"It is aggressively attacking grapevines in Cecil, Harford and Washington counties," said Kenton Sumpter, an entomologist with the Maryland Department of Agriculture and member of its Spotted Lanternfly Team.
The spotted lanternfly is originally from China. It first showed up in the U.S. in Pennsylvania then spread to Maryland in 2018, and the population is currently exploding across Harford and Cecil counties. It has also been found in Baltimore City and Allegany, Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, Howard, Kent, Montgomery, Queen Anne's, Wicomico and Washington counties. Infestations have been confirmed in 12 states.
Why is it a problem? Spotted lanternflies suck sap from trees and plants, taking energy away from them, and they have the potential to devastate vineyards, orchards and nurseries.
"This year, we've actually had reports from growers that are accusing spotted lanternfly of reducing their crop yields," said Sumpter.
The spotted lanternfly also lets out a sugary substance called honeydew that attracts a fungus that can damage plants.
Sumpter said the insect will not kill plants, but his department is worried about them reducing yields of grapes and possibly apples, peaches and pears.
"It attacks a number of different host species, but the one we're really worried about is grapevine," he said.
The state's Spotted Lanternfly Team tracks and traps the insects and will be spraying for them. But they need every Marylander's help to try to prevent the insects from damaging the agriculture industry and spreading to other states.
"The first thing we want people to do is to squish them. Destroy them wherever you find them. They do look pretty, but they need to be gotten rid of," said Sumpter.
The spotted lanternfly will not sting or bite or carry disease.
"If Marylanders can get on-board with helping with management, slowing the spread, we can weather the storm," said Sumpter.
You can report sightings of the spotted lanternfly by visiting this website. Sightings in Harford and Cecil counties no longer need to be reported.
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