Spotted lanternfly could harm Virginia crops and plants

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) At Virginia Tech, researchers are studying a bug that could do widespread damage to crops in Virginia.

Virginia Tech entomologists, Eric Day and Doug Pheiffer, are busy studying a potentially disastrous insect. It's called the Spotted Lanternfly.

"The name is kind of misleading because it doesn't have a lantern and it's not a true fly," Day said. "It belongs to group of plant hoppers called lanternflies."

These teeny tiny creatures were found on several different types of plants in Winchester, Virginia.

"It's not really in a pest family, but it's a pest in a big way," Pfeiffer said.

The biggest population of this bug in the United States is in Pennsylvania, but researchers worry it will continue to spread because the bug often lays eggs on hard surfaces like cars and trains.

"That would allow them to move long distances really quickly," Pfeiffer explained.

The ramifications of this plant hopper on crops could be worse than the 17-year cicada phenomenon.

"The big difference is the 17-year cicada comes every 17 years," Day said. "Whereas, once the spotted lanternfly becomes established, it's there every year."

It also feeds on over 70 different types of plants including grapes, peaches, other stone fruits, hops and tree of heaven, which means this bug could cause dramatic crop reduction and lower the quality of crops.

"It's kind of a dual pest," Day said. "It's a pest on crops and a nusience pest on humans. "

It doesn't sting or bite, but is still annoying for people. Pfeiffer says that in Pennsylvania, it's become a huge quality of life issue.

"The people don't want to let their kids out of their houses," he said..

The spotted lanternfly hasn't been reported in southwest Virginia, but that doesn't mean it isn't here. For more information about the spotted lanternfly, click here. If you think you've seen the spotted lanternfly, you can upload pictures and descriptions to this identification portal.