PROVIDENCE, RI – The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) announces that the spotted lanternfly (SLF), an exotic pest that targets various plants and trees, has a detected population for the first time in Rhode Island. Native to Asia, SLF is most frequently associated with Tree of Heaven plants (Ailanthus altissima) and feeds on a wide range of agricultural crops such as grape, apple, and hops and several native species of plants and trees including maple, walnut, and willow.
Patches of SLF that were found along Route 7 in Smithfield indicate this is Rhode Island's first find of a population of SLF. This was confirmed by US Department of Agriculture (USDA) last week. DEM is currently continuing to survey the area to get an idea of the extent of its spread. Additionally, DEM, USDA, and the University of Rhode Island (URI) are working on management options to minimize its spread. DEM's Division of Agriculture and Forest Environment (DAFE) confirmed the sighting on Aug. 19 and is asking the public to report any suspected sightings at www.dem.ri.gov/reportspottedlanternfly. DEM will be conducting an extensive survey of the area based on USDA recommendations to determine if there is any further presence of the invasive insect and will be providing outreach materials to businesses in the area.
"In Rhode Island, we have about 69,000 acres of agricultural lands with many of those lands at risk of being infested with SLF including vineyards, orchards, berry crops, and nursery stock," said Senior Environmental Planner Cynthia Kwolek . "It's critical that we take the necessary steps to detect and stop the spread of this invasive pest, particularly since it has now been found in our state."
DEM and URI conducted a statewide SLF survey in 2021 of local vineyards and areas with large populations of Tree of Heaven plants. Also in 2021, DEM and URI held a series of public workshops to help municipalities, the grower industry, and residents prepare for and respond to this pest, should it be detected in the state.
Along with spotted patterning, the adult SLF has scarlet underwings, yellow markings on the abdomen, and tan semi-transparent forewings. Adult lanternflies are about an inch long and are active from August until the first hard freeze, which typically occurs around late October into November.
Although SLF can fly distances on its own, it is an excellent hitchhiker and mainly spreads through human movement. Its inconspicuous egg masses can be laid on pallets, vehicles, and other goods, so it is important to inspect shipping materials and adhere to travel restrictions when moving through areas that are under quarantine for SLF. The following tips can help stop the spread of SLF:
o Inspect firewood, vehicles, outdoor furniture, and camping gear for egg masses, nymphs, and adults.
o If you visit states with SLF, check all your gear and equipment before leaving and scrape off any egg masses.
o Take a photo, squash the insect, and make a report to DEM's agricultural pest alerts website.
SLF was first detected in Pennsylvania in 2014 and has quickly spread through surrounding states. An invasive plant-hopper that is currently infesting parts of the mid-Atlantic region of the United States, SLF has established populations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, and recently Michigan with finds of populations also in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. In Pennsylvania, where the pest has been spreading for over six years, there has been significant yield loss in vineyards and the insect has become a public nuisance.
To learn more about SLF, visit DEM's Agricultural Pest Alerts website or the URI website. To report a potential finding, please visit: www.dem.ri.gov/reportspottedlanternfly.
For more information on DEM programs and initiatives, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow DEM on Facebook, Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM), or Instagram (@rhodeisland.dem) for timely updates.