Daniel Vasta/The New York Times

Spotted lanternflies, notorious for their harmful consequences on vineyards, are cause for concern for local farmers and experts.

November 16, 2021

Following Vineyard Harvest Season, City of Ithaca and State Officials Manage Spotted Lanternfly Population

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Since last year, spotted lanternfly adults, which have the potential to wipe out Finger Lake vineyards and rattle New York wine production, have been spotted in Ithaca. 

With the potential threat continuing into the winter, the city is coordinating with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets in an ongoing effort to keep the population of lanterflies at bay. Without monitoring the spotted lanternfly, the presence of the invasive species could result in many acres of loss for grape growers and billions in profit loss for the state. 

According to Jeanne Grace ’09, city forester, city-driven efforts in the spring helped to keep the population more manageable. The parks and forestry department spent the summer looking for adults and egg masses, and discovered some adult lanternflies near the end of the summer months.

Since the spotted lanternflies aren’t good fliers, the city is aiming to keep the adults confined to the area where they originally found egg masses in the spring.

While the goal is always to eliminate the insects, Ithaca is facing waves of lanternflies as opposed to a single invasion. Spotted lanternflies will continue to be brought to the county by accident — through vehicles and on outdoor materials transported across state lines. 

“It’s not terribly likely that we’ll be able to eradicate this insect … but we’re hoping that we can keep the population low enough that it doesn’t cause problems to the wine and orchard industries that are in the Finger Lakes,” Grace said.

The Finger Lakes Region is one of the main producers of New York State wine, a significant part of the Tompkins County economy. 

Wine producers are also weary of the threat posed by the lanternfly. Cameron Hosmer, founder of Hosmer Winery located in Ovid, New York, said “it’s no critter to ignore.” 

Though he has not seen any lanternflies on his farm, he is well aware of the situation in Pennsylvania, where his associates “have just about been put out of business because of this bug.”  

The bug feeds on the plant sap, plunging its long mouthpart directing into the vines of grape plants. Large feedings reduce vine strength and suck the plant of nutrients essential to growth, which can greatly harm harvest. In addition, the lanternflies excrete a substance called honeydew, which attracts mold whose build up blocks the plant’s leaves from photosynthesizing.

Brian Eshenaur, a plant pathologist in Cornell’s Integrated Pest Management Program who coordinates New York State’s outreach effort for the spotted lanternfly, explained that the state is also concerned about the insect’s possible effects on the vinyards.

According to Eshenaur, by drawing out the sap from the vines themselves, spotted lanternflies weaken the vines. Because feeding is so extensive, it can kill whole vineyards, destroying harvest and greatly reducing wine production for the state, which has an estimated $6.6 billion direct impact on New York’s economy, according to Eshenaur. 

Eshenaur added that, due to their lifecycle, spotted lanternflies will likely be seen well into the winter. 

“[Spotted lanternflies] don’t die until we have a hard freeze,” Eshenaur said. “Frost will just slow them down. They can survive that … [even the spotted lanternfly eggs] have been tested in lab settings at subzero temperatures, and have survived just fine.”

Currently, Ithaca is considering the possibility of treating the Tree of Heaven, the insect’s preferred host plant, with insecticide to prevent the insects from feeding off them. This is a viable option, according to Grace, since the application of the insecticide won’t damage local ecosystems.

“This is directly applied into the vascular system of that tree so it’s a very targeted application,” Grace said. This technique reduces plants and animal interactions with the insecticide and leaves the ecosystem largely unharmed. 

In the fall, the city also added eco-stewards to the team working to address the spotted lanternfly — volunteers that look throughout Ithaca periodically to check to see if there are any adults or egg masses.

Apart from the city’s methods, the state is also trying to set up sticky traps and check for lanternflies to identify populations of the insect as fast as possible.

“[New York State] has inspectors that are out, checking for spotted lanternflies throughout the state,” Eshenaur said. “They have traps set out and we’re really working to identify any cases that are out there right now.” 

Despite these measures, Eshenaur said it is still important that people report sightings of the spotted lanternfly to maximize population control efforts. In addition, egg clusters should be removed from belongings before travel and reported if seen on trees. Sightings can be reported here

“We’re looking at every different avenue to control this insect and we don’t want to let it go unchecked because we could lose vineyard[s],” Eshenaur said. “If they see this insect anywhere, we want to know.”