Crop-destroying spotted lanternfly, first discovered in Pa., now in N.J.

The spotted lanternfly, a crop-munching invasive pest first discovered on U.S. soil in Berks County, is now in New Jersey.

On Tuesday, the New Jersey and U.S. Departments of Agriculture jointly announced the first confirmed sighting of the spotted lanternfly in the Garden State in Warren County, in the northwest corner of the state bordering the Delaware River.

Native to China, India, Vietnam, and East Asia, the spotted lanternfly is already present in 13 Pennsylvania counties. The Agriculture Departments are asking people traveling to and from Pennsylvania to inspect their vehicles for the insect before entering New Jersey.

The pest prefers the tree of heaven — also an invasive species — as its host. Indeed, the first New Jersey sighting was on a tree of heaven.

The insect can cause damage to 70 plant species, including fruit trees, ornamental trees, woody trees, vegetables, herbs, and vines. That includes crops such as grapes, apples, and peaches.

The spotted lanternfly feeds on plants by piercing them to get at sap. As they do, they excrete liquids. That process causes wounds on the plants and facilitates mold growth.

Currently, the pest is in its nymph stage and is likely to be either black or red with white spots, and a half-inch to three-quarters of an inch long.

Surveillance for the pest is continuing in areas along the Delaware River where field crews have been conducting surveys from Warren to Burlington Counties since 2014, when it was first found in Pennsylvania.

The pest has spread so rapidly in Pennsylvania that the federal government pitched in $17.5 million to help the state fight it. The insect now ranges 3,000 square miles in Pennsylvania.

In June, a representative for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture said spotted lanternfly populations survived the harsh winter, but treatments are working. Locations treated with pest-controlling bands had markedly fewer numbers of nymphs compared with untreated properties.

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture is asking for help identifying areas where the insect may be present. If residents suspect they found the pest, they can email pictures to SLF-plantindustry@ag.nj.gov or call the New Jersey spotted lanternfly hotline at 1-833-223-2840 (BAD-BUG-0) and leave a message with contact information and the location of the sighting.