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Spotted lanternfly found in Illinois for the first time

A smashed spotted lanternfly sits on the ground in New York, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022.
Associated Press
A smashed spotted lanternfly sits on the ground in New York, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022.

The spotted lanternfly has arrived in Illinois.

The sighting of the invasive insect, an inchlong critter with distinctive black spots and bright red and yellow coloring, was confirmed Tuesday by the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

“Spotted lanternfly has been inching closer to the Midwest and Illinois for close to a decade,” Jerry Costello II, the Agriculture Department’s director, said in a statement about the insect.

“We have had a multi-agency team working to prepare for this scenario — including efforts on readiness, informing and educating the industry and the public, as well as monitoring early detection.”

A sighting of the bug was reported on Sept. 16 in an undisclosed part of the state. Officials visited the area and found a “moderately populated area of spotted lanternfly” on Sept. 18, the department said.

Anyone who spots the bug should photograph it for the department, and then kill it.

Stephanie Adams, Morton Arboretum’s plant health care leader, said there’s no cause for alarm now that the insect has arrived in Illinois.

Spotted lanternfly: How you can help control them

  • Report a lanternfly spotting to the state, and be sure to take a photo. Call the Illinois Department of Agriculture at 815-787-5476 or send an email with photos to lanternfly@illinois.edu. 
  • Crush any adult bugs and scrape egg nests into a container with hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol to kill them. Their nests look like smeared, dry clay. 
  • Check your vehicles for any signs of insects or eggs, especially before leaving outdoor areas. 
  • Spread the word about what the insect is and what to do when it is spotted.

“These aren’t going to kill plants or kill trees. They’ll be more a nuisance than anything,” Adams said. “Our message is don’t panic if you see it. We don’t want people applying pesticides every which way to manage it. Because even the areas in Pennsylvania that have been infested for a while, it hasn’t caused a great amount of harm.”

The spotted lanternfly, native to eastern Asia, was first found in the U.S. in southeastern Pennsylvania in 2014. Since then, the bug has spread throughout the East Coast and recently moved into the Midwest with confirmed sightings in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

“If there is a silver lining associated with spotted lanternfly in Illinois, it is that we have no reason to believe that widespread plant or tree death will result from its presence,” Scott Schirmer, an Agriculture Department field office manager, said in the statement.

The invasive insect does not pose a threat to humans or animals. But it does target plants by sucking the sap out of vine and tree fruits, especially grape vines and apples, peach and maple trees. The lanternfly can only travel short distances on its own, so it often travels by hitchhiking on humans, cars and trains.

The bug secretes a sticky honeydew substance onto trees it infests, Adams said. That substance doesn’t kill the plant, but it can weaken it.

“This is likely going to be a nuisance pest that interferes with our ability to enjoy outdoor spaces and may have some impact on the agritourism industry, including orchards, pumpkin patches and vineyards,” Schirmer said.

Encouraging the public to help manage the insect’s spread has been effective on the East Coast, Adams said.

“They’re not huge fliers. If you have a localized infestation, it’s not going to spread from that area very fast,” she said.

One way to also help manage the spread of the lanternfly and other invasive species is to avoid taking firewood across county or state lines when camping. The bug moves easily on wood surfaces.

“They always follow major interstates into state and national parks because people were moving firewood,” Adams said. “The number one thing you can do to prevent the spread of invasive pests and diseases is don’t move firewood. Buy it where you’re going to burn it.”

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