Small Bug, Big Impact: Villanova Professors Share Expertise on Invasive Insect Species in Pennsylvania

Small Bug, Big Impact: Villanova Professors Share Expertise on Invasive Insect Species in Pennsylvania

September 21, 20202 min read

The spotted lanternfly, an invasive species native to China, India and Vietnam, arrived in Pennsylvania in 2014. It is only over the past couple years, however, that the insect has gained particular notoriety.

This year, the presence of spotted lanternflies has drastically increased in eastern Pennsylvania, and these pesky bugs can have dangerous effects.

According to Villanova University professor of biology Vikram Iyengar, PhD, "The spotted lanternflies are back and showing no signs of going away. In fact, 12 new counties in Pennsylvania were added to the quarantine zone in 2020, which indicates that the invasive insects are spreading westward within the state." This quarantine prevents the travel of any spotted lanternflies through landscaping waste, firewood, plants and more.

Reducing the spread via quarantine is vital to minimize agricultural harm, including damage to fruit-bearing trees. (Spotted lanternflies pose a considerable threat to grape and wine production throughout the country.) Per Dr. Iyengar, "The state of Pennsylvania is devoting a lot of resources to figure this out, and there have been some successes—for example, New York still has not reported spotted lanternflies, which indicates that the Pennsylvania quarantine has been somewhat effective. But there is still no solution yet."

So, what's the answer? Dr. Iyengar notes that the possibility of a predator species will not combat the issue. Instead, "they will need to find some special pheromone or chemical that selectively lures spotted lanternflies into traps."

Having a harsh winter this year is also key. "The fact that we had such a mild winter last year probably meant that more eggs were able to withstand the winter," said Dr. Iyengar. "A harsh winter may be our best hope, so the persistence of the spotted lanternfly may be yet another negative consequence of climate change."

Another invasive species currently being tracked in Pennsylvania is the emerald ash borer. Villanova's R. Kelman Wieder, PhD, studies plant biology and believes these insects, which kill ash trees, are the next big threat to plant life in Pennsylvania. "I have lots of ash trees in my woods and they all are dead or dying," said Dr. Wieder. "My house was built in the 1830s and the huge ash tree was as old as my house."

But Dr. Wieder isn't too worried. "Are we doomed? Well, yes and no. Eastern deciduous forests have been radically changed in the past by the chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease, yet we still have forests."

That said, he still some concerns for the future. "On top of this, deer munch on young trees," added Dr. Wieder. "So many Pennsylvania forests are deficient in young trees, so in 50 to 100 years, what will happen?"

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