WINCHESTER — Get used to the pesky spotted lanternflies. They're not going away anytime soon, if ever.
An infestation in the Winchester area appears to be spreading, according to Mark Sutphin, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agriculture and natural resources horticulture agent based in Frederick County.
Spotted lanternflies originally were reported not only in the city, but also in northern parts of Frederick County between U.S. 11, Interstate 81 and the West Virginia line, as well as eastern parts of the county toward Opequon Creek. Recently, reports have come in from the Stephens City, Hayfield and Gore areas, and a few have been seen on the western edge of Clarke County, Sutphin said.
In addition, the insects have been observed in the Inwood and Bunker Hill areas of nearby Berkeley County, West Virginia, he said. A new infestation was discovered over the summer in Hagerstown, Maryland, he added.
"It's evident that eradication is not going to happen" in the near future, said Sutphin. Right now, "the goal is to slow their spread as much as possible to allow science to catch up" and find a way to control them.
With its yellow and black body, and its red, white and black wings and dark spots, the spotted lanterfly (scientific name Lycorma delicatula) is beautiful to look at. But the invasive species is highly destructive to trees, crops and other plantings.
Scientists believe spotted lanternflies from Asia made their way to Pennsylvania in 2014 on a delivery of ornamental landscaping stone and began spreading as the stone was distributed elsewhere.
Tree of heaven, as well as hardwoods such as black walnuts and maples, are among their favorite places to gather. They pierce trees and suck up the sap. They also excrete a sticky waste called “honeydew” that, as it builds up on a surface, turns into a black fungal growth covering anything it comes into contact with, including plant leaves.
As cold weather approaches, adult spotted lanternflies will die, but not before laying egg masses. The offspring will hatch next spring.
The first masses locally were observed last week, Sutphin said. They are about a half-inch long to 1½ inches wide and "look almost like mud or a putty smear" on trees, vehicles or practically anything outside, he said.
"Smashing and destroying egg masses is encouraged" to get rid of the pests, said Sutphin.
Spotted lanternflies in small numbers can be squashed or squished. Sutphin said the Extension is hearing reports of dead clusters being observed outside homes and apartments. Spotted lanterflies seem to be attracted to high structures and may crash into them and die, he said, but scientists don't know why.
Although they're still trying to figure out a way to eradicate spotted lanternflies, scientists recommend removing trees of heaven — to which they seem particularly attracted — from properties.
Other methods of dealing with spotted lanternflies include treating hardwood trees with insecticides such as carbaryl, bifenthrin or pyrethrin. A systemic insecticide such as imidacloprid, which can be injected into a tree or applied to the soil around it, also can be used.