Invasive insect species threatening major industries in Finger Lakes region

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — There is a looming threat to the local agriculture economy, and it’s smaller than the palm of your hands.

Bright, red-winged spotted lanternflies from Asia are an invasive insect that is threatening the livelihood of some major, core industries in the Finger Lakes region.

"My family has vineyards on Cayuga Lake, and we work with a number of other growers around the Finger Lakes, as well, bringing the grapes up here where we actually make the wines in the city. This spotted lanternfly can have devastating effects on our business, on the local farmers, the growers that we work with," said Colleen Hardy, the owner of Living Roots, an urban winery in the Finger Lakes.

First discovered in 2014 in Pennsylvania, the spotted lanternfly is spreading across multiple states. The first infestation occurred in Staten Island in 2020, and there have been some sightings in Monroe County. The sightings are of dead spotted lanternflys.

"One of the reasons we’re particularly concerned about the arrival in New York is because it’s affecting our bread and butter crops, so our apples, our grapes," said Brian Eshenaur, an integrated pest management specialist at the Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Though the bug does not sting or bite and is not considered harmful to humans, experts say that the spotted lanternfly’s presence in Western New York can wreak havoc, jeopardizing jobs and multi-billion dollar cash crop industries such as New York farmers, winemakers and brewers.

"Many of our farmers are harvesting right at this time, and in an already strained economy, we must ensure that their product is protected for next year’s growing season," said Rep. Joseph Morelle.

In an effort to combat the spread of the foreign insect, the U.S. representative secured $4 million in 2020 to help the U.S. Department of Agriculture exterminate the species in its entirety.

"This is a growing crisis, and one that we have to do everything we can to stop. There are people all across the country very concerned about it," Congressman Morelle said.

Experts say if you do come across a spotted lanternfly, take a picture of it first and then kill it by crushing the bug. You will always want to check the surrounding area for signs of the insect, which exudes a sticky and shiny sap-like substance. The insect likes to harvest on hard surfaces, such as tree trunks.

You can report a spotted lanternfly sighting by sending a photo. Please be sure to note the location where of the insect when sending.