Michigan's fruit crops in jeopardy as state faces new invasive bug

Small population of the bug found in Oakland County last week

Photo of Angela Mulka
Residents are asked to look for the spotted lanternfly, an invasive pest detected in Michigan for the first time on Aug. 10, 2022. Earlier spotted lanternfly life stages include a black spotted beetle which later morphs to red, as indicated in the image's top right and left corners.

Residents are asked to look for the spotted lanternfly, an invasive pest detected in Michigan for the first time on Aug. 10, 2022. Earlier spotted lanternfly life stages include a black spotted beetle which later morphs to red, as indicated in the image's top right and left corners.

Photo provided/Lawrence Barringer/Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources

An insect that sucks the sap out of a range of plants and crops made its way across northeastern states into Michigan for the first time.

The invader called the spotted lanternfly was confirmed to be in the state by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Director Gary McDowell in a press release issued by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on Thursday.

McDowell explained a small population of the bug was found in Pontiac in Oakland County last week with the United States Department of Agriculture confirming the finding on Wednesday.

The bug is native to Asia but arrived in Pennsylvania in 2014. It can damage or kill more than 70 different types of crops and plants including grapes, apples, hops and hardwood trees.

"Although not unexpected, this is certainly tough news to share due to its potential for it to negatively impact Michigan’s grape industry," McDowell said in the release.

Adult spotted lanterfly's bright wing coloration is hidden when wings are closed.

Adult spotted lanterfly's bright wing coloration is hidden when wings are closed.

Photo provided/Robert Gardner/Bugwood.org/Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources
Spotted lanternflies are more likely to be seen with wings folded. Look for grey to brown wings with black spots, and black-striped wing tips, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Spotted lanternflies are more likely to be seen with wings folded. Look for grey to brown wings with black spots, and black-striped wing tips, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Photo provided/Lawrence Barringer/Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture/Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources
Adult spotted lanterfly's bright wing coloration is hidden when wings are closed. Spotted lanternflies are more likely to be seen with wings folded, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The spotted lanternfly does damage by sucking the sap out of plants and leaving behind a sugar-rich, sticky liquid called honeydew, which collects on the ground or surrounding vegetation and results in a black mold that discolors and kills plants, according to the DNR in the release. Honeydew also attracts other insects, such as hornets and ants, which can complicate crop harvests.

"Our agricultural and natural resources are part of Michigan’s identity, and spotted lanternfly has the potential to forever change that landscape," Robert Miller, invasive species prevention and response specialist for MDARD said in a July 20 statement before the insect was confirmed in the state.

"With its ability to wreak havoc on grapes, apples, hops, stone fruits and more, this could be devastating to Michigan’s farmers and the state’s food and agriculture industry," Miller continued.

MDARD and the DNR are working with the USDA to define the extent of the infestation, according to Mike Philip, director of the plant pest management division of MDARD, in the release.

"Although we can’t pinpoint exactly how it got here, it likely hitchhiked on nursery stock brought in from an infested state and has possibly been here for several months," Philip said in the release. "We are in the assessment stage of response, but it is important to note that typical pest management techniques have not proven effective for eliminating the pest in other states."

Spotted lanternflies do not fly far. But they move easily on firewood, tires, campers and vehicles and lay eggs everywhere. Their eggs resemble patches of old chewing gum.

Spotted lanternflies may lay egg masses on vehicles, outdoor furniture or other items that can be transported to new areas, leading to new infestations, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Spotted lanternflies may lay egg masses on vehicles, outdoor furniture or other items that can be transported to new areas, leading to new infestations, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Photo provided/Emilie Swackhammer/Penn State University/Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources

If you find a spotted lanternfly egg mass, nymph or adult, the DNR asked that you take one or more photos, make note of the date, time and location of the sighting, and report it online to Eyes in the Field. Photos are necessary to verify a report and to aid in identification.

The DNR also recommended the following to prevent the spread:

  • Check your vehicle: Before leaving a parking lot or work site, inspect vehicles for spotted lanternfly eggs or insects. Check doors, sides, bumpers, wheel wells, grills and roofs. If found, destroy any eggs or insects you find.
  • Park with windows closed: The spotted lanternfly and its nymphs can enter vehicles unsuspectedly.
  • Remove and destroy pests: Crush nymphs and adult insects. Scrape egg masses into a plastic bag containing hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol to kill them.
  • Remove host trees: Spotted lanternflies prefer the ailanthus tree, also known as the "tree of heaven." Try to remove trees from properties to avoid attracting spotted lanternflies.

"The more people we can make aware of what to look for and what to do if they find it, the better chances we have at combating it," Central Michigan Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area Director Matthew Lindauer said.

For more information on identifying or reporting spotted lanternflies, visit Michigan.gov/spottedlanternfly.