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An Insect Invasion Threatens East Coast Vineyards

Spotted lanternfly nymph sits on grapevine, Berks County, Pennslvania / Getty

Anthony Vietri has learned a lot about the spotted lanternfly over the three seasons he’s dealt with the invasive pest in his Pennsylvania vineyards. “They are an exasperating but fascinating insect,” says the owner and winemaker of Va La Vineyards. “As adults, they have the quite annoying habit of jumping onto things as they pass—cars, animals and, unfortunately, your face.”

The spotted lanternfly is a piercing, sucking insect that feeds on plant sap, making them a major threat to fruit crops and trees. Black with white spots, they develop bright red hind wings as they age and are fairly easy to identify. While the behaviors of the insect are better understood now than when they were first found stateside, wineries are still figuring out the best approach to protect their vines from the invasive species.

Since spotted lanternflies were first detected in Berks County, Pennsylvania in September 2014, infestations have been reported in 11 states, according to the USDA, including New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia. Vineyards in these states have suffered vine damage, as well as lost yields and revenue, as a result of these infestations.

“They can be extremely irritating to outdoor visitors at tasting rooms,” says Vietri. He points out how much of a nuisance the jumping bugs are during events like weddings. “And much worse, they are sap-feeders that will destroy vines if they infest in large numbers.”