Spotted lanterfly (via Magi Kern/Unsplash)

Fairfax County officials have a simple message for anyone who spots a spotted lanternfly: kill it immediately.

Native to China, the invasive insect can spread far and wide through its egg masses, making its way to Fairfax County via a recent shipment to a grocery store in Annandale. Loudoun County has also confirmed multiple sightings, but its presence has not reached the level of an infestation — yet.

“This is a relatively new pest in the area and the county is concerned about the potential impact this pest may pose,” Joan Allen, chief of the county’s forest pest management branch, told FFXnow.

Allen says that while the county has not found evidence of an infestation, the county has received several reports of a hitchhiker spotted lanternfly.

The insect can cause serious damage to home and commercial gardens, according to county officials. It thrives on more than 70 plant species, including grapes, apples, stone fruits, and tree-of-heaven. Officials say the state’s peach, apple, grape, and wine industries are most threatened by the insect.

The spotted lanternfly releases a sticky substance called honeydew that attracts wasps and ants. This substance can also encourage mold to grow on plants and trees, which can cover leaves, stunt plant growth, and ruin crops.

Although the insect has been in Virginia since 2018, its recent emergence has prompted the city of Winchester and Frederick, Clarke, and Warren counties to institute a spotted lanternfly quarantine. This effort is intended to slow its spread to un-infested areas of the state.

Businesses must receive a state permit and inspect articles to ensure that they do not contain any life stage of the spotted lanternfly, according to Fairfax County. This quarantine has been in effect since May 2019.

The insect has different colors during four different nymph stages. The county offers the following description of the insect’s changing appearance.

There are black and white nymphs; red, black and white nymphs; and adults. Adult lanternflies have gray-brown forewings, a black head and black spots. When at rest the hind wings, which are crimson in color, can be partially seen through the semi-translucent forewings, which gives the lanternfly a reddish cast. The lanternfly’s abdomen is yellow with black and white bands on the tip and bottom.

October is egg-laying season for most of the insects. Egg masses are typically covered with a light gray wax that looks like mud when it dries.

From this month through July, the county encourages residents to scrape egg masses from trees and trunks with adhesive bands. Scrapings should be discarded in containers of rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer. Stump treatments, hack and squirt treatments, foliar sprays, and basal bark sprays can help during the other parts of the year.

For now, any spotted lanternfly should be killed immediately.

The first spotted lanternflies in the United States were found in Pennsylvania in 2014, according to the National Capital Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management.

Four years later, Virginia officials documented the state’s first lanternflies infestation in Winchester. A quarantine was enacted by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to slow the spread of the infestation.

Photo via Magi Kern/Unsplash

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