A new infestation of the pesky spotted lanternfly was discovered in Holyoke in late August, according to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.

Holyoke is now one of a few cities and towns in Massachusetts struggling with invasive species that officials say should be crushed on sight. The colorful pests appear to be spreading in the state, and can cause significant damage to fruit crops and other trees.

The new infestation has not yet been added to the department’s maps showing lanternfly numbers in the state. The agency issued an infestation alert in early September, informing Holyoke residents that surveyors would check area trees for the insects, and that local residents should report any sightings.

The discovery shows the insects have spread across the state since the first individual lanternfly was found in Massachusetts in 2018, said Jennifer Foreman Orth, a biologist with the Department of Agriculture.

In addition to Holyoke, Springfield, Fitchburg, Shrewsbury and Worcester all have known infections. (Infestation is defined either by the aggregation of multiple insects or by the detection of egg masses.) Individual lanterns are found throughout the state from Berkshire County to Boston — and even on Martha’s Vineyard.

The lanternfly is about an inch long, has black-spotted wings and smaller, bright red underwings. This type can cause many agricultural problems.

Lanterns eat the sap found inside trees or plants by embedding their straw-like trumpets into tree trunks or plant stems. Their favorite plant is the tree of heaven (also an invasive species), but they will feed on other important New England trees and crops, including apple trees, grape vines, maple trees, and hops. Their feeding habits damage plants and eventually lead to crop loss.

When they feed, spotted lanternflies secrete a sticky, sap-like substance called honeydew that collects on surfaces, eventually fermenting and growing a black, foul-smelling substance called sooty mold fungus.

Honeydew fungi and sooty molds are not toxic to humans and will not kill a plant immediately, but black fungi can make plants photosynthesis more difficult and more vulnerable to outside environmental influences, Forman-Orth said.

“If there are other environmental problems, such as drought or floods, or some other disease, they are likely to be more vulnerable to that,” she explained.

Lanternflies also tend to cluster together, especially in late summer, which can be a problem for businesses that rely on outdoor events.

“There is a potential impact on orchards, especially any orchards that do your own fruit picking activities where they want the public to come out and enjoy the farm and get out in nature,” Forman Orth said. “In states with large outbreaks, lantern swarm behavior can make it really difficult to enjoy the outdoors.”

Spotted lanterns gather on a tree in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Both Pennsylvania and New York are dealing with major outbreaks of the pest. Officials in those states and the US Department of Agriculture require residents to crush insects whenever they have the opportunity. (You may have seen videos of people killing pests on social media.)

“I think citizens are doing a great job controlling what they can control by stepping on them,” said Brian Echenor, an invasive species specialist at Cornell University who works in New York State’s Integrated Pest Management program. “They’re not everywhere yet, and we want to slow the spread as much as possible.”

The lanternfly was originally found in China in a climate similar to that of the northeastern United States, and was first observed in the United States in 2014. It lays masses of 30 to 50 eggs around late September or October. The masses are fat enough to last through the cold winters and hatch around April.

It’s too early to know if a warming climate has an impact on the species’ spread, but warmer springs could mean their eggs hatch earlier, Echenor said. He also noted that adults lay eggs until they die at the first hard frost, so delaying the onset of the first frost due to a warmer fall could result in a longer egg-laying season.

Spotted lanternflies are excellent hitchhikers, which makes them very difficult to contain. Despite their name, Foreman-Orth said they’re not strong fliers, so any time they show up in a new state or town that seems far away from other infections, they’ve probably taken a flight there.

They climb on people, clothing, vehicle wheels, or truck beds. They fly through open car windows. It is believed that the lantern first came to the United States on shipments of stone sent to Pennsylvania.

One reason they’re so good at moving around is because spotted lanternflies are always moving, Echinor said. Pests need to be constantly fed and are in constant search for food.

He also noted that although the insect often lays its egg masses on tree bark or firewood, it can lay eggs on almost any surface.

“We’ve found that they will lie down on camp chairs, on outdoor seat cushions,” Eshinor said.

If a lanternfly lays its egg mass on something that has been moved to a new location, its eggs will likely hatch in a place where that species has not yet been found.

“If they’re traveling on a vehicle or a load of lumber or anything like that, there’s no set limit to how many miles they can travel. That makes it very difficult to predict,” Forman Orth said.

A spotted lantern nymph climbs the leg of Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes during a 2021 rally in Philadelphia.  (Matt Slocum/AP)
A spotted lantern nymph climbs the leg of Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes during a 2021 rally in Philadelphia. (Matt Slocum/AP)

For this reason, she said people who live or work in places with an infestation should check their cars for any nuisance hikers before leaving the area. The Department of Agriculture has a series of guides on what homeowners, landscapers, drivers and others can do to prevent lanterns from being carried to new places.

Furman Orth stressed that if Massachusetts residents see what they think is a lantern, they should take a photo and report the sighting via a form on the department’s website.

“We put all of our effort into trying to determine the extent of the infestation, and when we are able to do that, in some cases we do limited lantern treatments to try to eradicate their numbers,” Forman-Orth said. “We need all the information we can in order to do this kind of administrative work.”

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