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Invasive spotted lanternfly discovered in North Carolina for first time: "Heavy infestation"

Lab-raised bugs used to combat invasive species
Lab-raised bugs used to combat invasive species 02:22

A population of an invasive fly from Asia has been discovered in North Carolina for the first time, confirming a prediction from agriculture experts that it was only a matter of time before the potentially destructive pest reached the state.

The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service announced an infestation of the spotted lanternfly in Kernersville, just east of Winston-Salem. According to a news release from N.C. State University, the infestation covers a 5-mile radius.

"A heavy infestation of insects were found in a few locations, signifying it as being an established presence and not a single-insect occurrence," the department said in a news release.

An invasive spotted lanternfly Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

The first U.S. sighting of the spotted lanternfly was in Pennsylvania in 2014, the news release said. Since then, it has since been found in nine other states in New England and the Midwest. In late 2021, an infestation was found near the Virginia-North Carolina state line.

During heavy infestations, the spotted lanternfly may kill grapevines, and mating swarms may disrupt events at vineyards. It feeds on more than 100 species of plants, including hops, fruit trees and native trees. It is also attracted to popular plants used for landscaping around homes and businesses.

Last summer, growing numbers of the fly were spotted in New York City and the city's Department of Parks and Recreation urged residents who saw one to "squish it, dispose of it, and report it to us."

Professor George Hamilton, the chair of Rutgers University's entomology department, told CBS New York last year that August was the best time to kill the insects, as that's when most of the adults are out. The bugs start laying eggs in September, he said, and baby lanternflies are more difficult to find and kill. 

The insect is also harmful to homeowners, who can face costs of thousands of dollars to eradicate the pests from their properties.

The problem begins with the spotted lanternfly's habit of excreting a substance called "honeydew," a sticky, sweet goop that falls from the insects as they feed on tree sap. Honeydew lands on homes, cars, decks and outdoor equipment, like grills, and is a growth medium for sooty mold — an unsightly fungus. The excreted substance is also attractive to bees and wasps, which can also spell trouble for homeowners. 

While there's no estimate on the economic impact for U.S. homeowners, it could be substantial, given that the cost to eradicate the spotted lanternfly from one property ranges between hundreds to thousands of dollars, according to experts. That's on top of projected economic costs from agricultural harm, which could exceed $300 million in Pennsylvania alone, according to a 2019 report from Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Li Cohen and Aimee Picchi contributed to this report.

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