NJ just ‘buying time’ until a spotted lanternfly predator is found
⚫ Spraying insecticides won't kill off the lanternfly population
⚫ A natural predator may be the answer
⚫ Researchers want to learn more about the lanternfly's genetic makeup
State officials have been telling us for years: crush any spotted lanternfly you see, and destroy egg masses on trees and outdoor furniture.
But that can only do so much. In fact, despite residents' efforts over the past few seasons, the Asia-native pest has managed to establish confirmed populations in every New Jersey county.
"What we're doing by slowing the spread is we're buying time," Saul Vaiciunas, a plant pathologist with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, told New Jersey 101.5. "We're never going to stop this thing completely from moving."
The first U.S. sighting of the invasive species occurred in 2014 in Pennsylvania. Now it's present in at least 14 U.S. states — the bug is a great hitchhiker and can catch a ride on traveling vehicles.
In New Jersey, every county is considered to be in the spotted lanternfly "quarantine zone," meaning residents and businesses need to follow certain steps before traveling out of state.
A natural predator for spotted lanternflies?
In an effort to reduce the population that bugs residents, trees, and fruits this summer, Department of Agriculture staff have scraped tens of thousands of egg masses from their surfaces "in select priority locations," such as train yards, airports, and seaports.
Last year, 300,000 egg masses were destroyed.
But these efforts are only making a dent in the lanternfly's spread. And spraying insecticides, Vaiciunas said, isn't a feasible approach to killing the pest.
"We're not trying to eradicate every single lanternfly with pesticides at this point. That wouldn't be possible. There's too many of them, they're too widespread," Vaiciunas said.
The "ultimate answer" to the spotted lanternfly problem, he said, is likely to be "biological control" — a different pest that preys on spotted lanternflies and can be introduced safely into the environment.
This is an effort that's occurring on the federal level.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, researchers have been studying the genetic makeup of the insect in an effort to more precisely determine the Asian origin of the lanternfly invasion. With that information, ideally, they can narrow the search for natural predators and parasitoids (insects whose eggs are laid on other species and kill them).
Natural enemies have been in place for years to battle the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that's destroyed tens of millions of trees in the U.S. and Canada since 2002.
Tiny wasps that attack and kill the emerald ash borer have been released in 30 states, including New Jersey, and the District of Columbia.
According to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, "biocontrol" for the emerald ash borer has occurred in more than half of the state's counties.