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As spotted lanternfly control ramps up, Penn State, researchers find possible biopesticide

How to help stop the spread of the spotted lanternfly

Penn State Extension shares how to identify and remove eggs of the spotted lanternfly which is an invasive bug in eastern Pennsylvania.
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Penn State Extension shares how to identify and remove eggs of the spotted lanternfly which is an invasive bug in eastern Pennsylvania.

Penn State is requiring all employees who travel in and out of any of the 14 counties included in the invasive spotted lanternfly “quarantine zone” for work to receive training and carry spotted lanternfly kits.

But while quarantine efforts are ramping up, researchers may have found an effective pest control in the form of soilborne North American fungi.

The spotted lanternfly, a native species of Asia, was first discovered in the United States in Berks County in 2014. Since then, the invasive pest has spread to 14 counties in southeastern Pennsylvania, and parts of Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware. The infestations threaten Pennsylvania’s nursery, tree fruit, hardwood and grape industries.

A Cornell University-led study found two types of fungi — Batkoa major and Beauveria bassiana — were killing spotted lanternflies in forests near Reading, so researchers from Penn State joined the team to further study the fungi’s effects.

Nina Jenkins, a Penn State senior research associate in entomology, told Penn State News that when insects encounter these fungi, they pick up fungal spores that germinate and colonize on the body, killing the host in days. These fungi are useful ingredients in biopesticides, she said, because they are “environmentally friendly” and only affect the target pest and related organisms, not humans.

The white fuzz that grows on the cadaver of a spotted lanternfly days after contact with the fungi contains more fungi spores that can infect other insects, said Jenkins.

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A dead spotted lanternfly nymph is pictured with Beauveria bassiana spores on its body. Eric Clifton Penn State News

Researchers conducted their study in four 50 feet by 30 foot plots at Norristown Farm Park in Montgomery County, which is a hotbed of spotted lanternfly activity and contains their preferred host — tree of heaven. They sprayed the control group in each plot with water and the experimental group in each plot with a commercial biopesticide containing Beauveria fungus in water.

Early data indicates that, two weeks after spraying, the number of live lanternflies in fungus-treated areas was almost half as many as those in control areas.

David Biddinger, a Penn State tree fruit research entomologist, told Penn State News that researchers are “cautiously optimistic” about the preliminary results. Scientists are reproducing the experiment using mature lanternflies, who often gather higher in tree canopies. If results continue the positive trend, scientists want to focus future efforts on developing biopesticide products to possibly use for aerial spraying on large pieces of land.

Meanwhile, any Penn State employee who is required for work to travel to and from or within the quarantine zone has to take an online class on the spotted lanternfly through Cornerstone, said Lysa Holland, an environmental compliance engineer in the Penn State Environmental Health and Safety office. When traveling within or leaving the quarantine zone, employees are required to do a quick inspection of their vehicle and document it on an inspection log, she said.

For more information on the Penn State spotted lanternfly quarantine implementation, visit the Environmental Health and Safety website at https://ehs.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly/overview.

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