URI researchers tracking expected arrival of invasive insect species

Environment

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Another invasive species of insect is expected to arrive in Rhode Island this summer, and experts from the University of Rhode Island are warning the public to keep an eye out for it in their neighborhoods and backyards.

The spotted lanternfly feeds on more than 70 different plants, according to Lisa Tewksbury, an entomologist at the URI Biocontrol Lab. She said their eggs often latch onto trees but can also be found in places like picnic tables, wood pallets, and firewood.

They emerge as nymphs, when they’re black with white spots before adding shades of red. In the adult stage, Tewksbury says the spotted lanternflies are about an inch long and resemble a gray spotted moth with scarlet hindwings.

12 News chatted with Tewksbury about the potential pest and its impacts:

Q: Where did this species originally come from?

A: The insect is from China and the tree of Heaven is from China. It’s a preferred host.

Q: How are these insects migrating to Rhode Island?

A: If you’re near ports, where trains come in or buses or transportation. It’s definitely one thing we’re concerned about bringing insects in. For Rhode Island, the Providence area is a place where we’d want to look.

Q: What is the biggest concern regarding this potential invasive species?

A: From an economic standpoint, these insects do very well on grapes. So we’re concerned about vineyards.

Q: What types of trees do the spotted lanternfly typically go after?

A: Their preferred host is a tree of Heaven, which is actually an invasive species to Rhode Island. People who have tree of Heaven in their yard might want to get rid of it because it will make your chances of having spotted lanternfly as a large pest in your yard as kind of a nuisance less likely.

Q: What should the public look for if they suspect a spotted lanternfly is present?

A: If you’re getting droppings of a sticky substance, you might want to look up at that tree and see if it might be coming from there. People in Pennsylvania have described that when the sun is out and the plants are transpiring and when there are lots of spotted lanternflies, it’s almost as if it’s raining underneath trees, even with the sun out.

Tewksbury and her fellow researchers at URI are asking Rhode Islanders, specifically those who live near grape vines or trees of Heaven, to periodically check for spotted lanternflies and take a photo or collect a specimen if they’re found. Photos can be sent to Tewksbury at lisat@uri.edu.

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