HUTCHINSON, Kan. — While the invasive spotted lanternfly has been wreaking havoc on the East Coast, officials in Kansas were shocked to find one pinned on a student display at the state fair.
The spotted lanternfly is an invasive insect that prevents plants from photosynthesizing, causing them to die, prompting health officials to suggest killing it on site. Kansas State Fair officials judging 4-H entomology entries last week discovered one display included an invasive moth.
That triggered a federal investigation.
“We had one entomology issue,” Fair Board member Gregg Hadley, Director for Extension at K-State Research and Extension, advised the rest of the board Friday morning. “It was a dead one, but it was in a critter box.”
The student from Thomas County who included the insect in a 4-H insect display box had properly identified it as a spotted lanternfly.
The student, however, Hadley said, was unaware the bug was an invasive species that has prompted quarantines in at least 45 counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to try to stop its spread.
“They think it came in on a camper,” Hadley said.
The insect, which looks like a moth but is actually a hopping tree bug, prevents plants from photosynthesizing by depositing sticky honeydew excretions that then grow mold, causing the plants to die.
It feeds on some 70 different plant species and has spread widely since showing up in Pennsylvania about 10 years ago. It’s believed it arrived on cargo from China.
Residents in quarantine areas are asked to follow a checklist before moving vehicles or other outdoor items out of the quarantine areas to ensure they aren’t transporting the bug or its eggs.
One of the fair’s entomology judges was familiar with the insect — and the requirement of reporting it to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
That agency will conduct an investigation, trying to trace back how the insect landed in northwestern Kansas, some 1,100 miles from the quarantined areas.
Hadley and Wade Weber, the State 4-H Program Leader, said they were unaware of there ever being a similar incident from a fair entry in the past. Because the insect was dead, the student was allowed to enter the exhibit, Weber said.
The lanternfly originates from China, and George Hamilton, department chair of entomology at Rutgers University, believes they landed in the U.S. via a crate coming from the Asian country. The good news about the insects is that they can’t harm humans or pets. However, they cause massive damage to plants and are known to feed on over 70 different types of trees and plants.
“They’re very good hitchhikers,” Hamilton told USA TODAY. “Most people don’t even know they’ve got them until the adult form comes out.”