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Lanternflies Causing Big Problems in Pennsylvania

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The Associated Press (AP) recently reported on what it calls the Great Spotted Lanternfly War.

On one side are the people of Pennsylvania, what the news agency calls the state's citizen-soldiers. Their enemy is a large, colorful insect: the spotted lanternfly.

Lanternflies are native to Southeast Asia. They were first discovered in southeastern Pennsylvania five years ago. The insects suck fluids from valuable plants, causing the plants to weaken.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture says the invaders could affect fruits such as grapes and also hardwoods. It adds that the flies are reducing the quality of life for people in some areas. The lanternflies leave their clear, sticky and sugary waste on homes, swimming pools and other structures.

However, Pennsylvania's citizen-soldiers are fighting back. The AP reports that they are armed with fly swatters, sticky tape and dish soap. People are stepping on them and using chemical poisons. Some are reporting their kills on social media.

And still the invaders come. They will fly in your face, land on your clothing and climb down the back of your neck.

The lanternfly has expanded its territory to include New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia. This is causing concern in those states as well as at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is involved in containment and suppression efforts.

Controlling the lanternflies

Researchers are looking for ways to control the insects. But "controlling them on a population level is almost impossible at this point," said Heather Leach of Penn State Extension.

Lori Beatrice can relate. Large numbers of lanternflies now live around the back of her home in Phoenixville, about 50 kilometers from Philadelphia. She and her husband have killed thousands, but "we're outnumbered," Beatrice said.

The insects are a threat to grapes that supply Pennsylvania's $4.8 billion wine industry.

In this Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, photo, Dean Scott speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at his vineyard in Kutztown, Pa. The spotted lanternfly has emerged as a serious pest.
In this Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, photo, Dean Scott speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at his vineyard in Kutztown, Pa. The spotted lanternfly has emerged as a serious pest.

Dean Scott grows grapes for local wineries around the Berks County community of Kutztown. He has been putting insecticide on his vines. It works for a few days, but then the insects return.

One of Scott's fellow growers left the business after losing 16 hectares of vines.

Scott said, "My fear is that if this continues, we're going to lose the battle here in Pennsylvania."

Scientists from Pennsylvania State University, Cornell University and other organizations are trying to prevent that from happening. They are testing chemical and biological methods of control.

Work crews are removing tree of heaven from public property. The trees are an invasive plant that lanternflies like. Females are beginning to lay their eggs now. So, Pennsylvania is urging its citizen militia to remove the egg masses from trees, cars and other surfaces.

Shannon Powers is with the Department of Agriculture. "We're heading into the season where everyday people can have the greatest impact on what happens next year," she said.

One man's story

If most Pennsylvanians in the Great Spotted Lanternfly War are regular Army, Jim Wood is Special Forces.

To deal with the lanternflies that have been attacking his trees, Wood uses a wet/dry vacuum cleaner. He goes to work at least once a day. He estimates that he has killed almost 40,000 lanternflies this year.

But even this super-soldier can feel hopeless because of the size of the enemy force.

"There are some days I just wanted to quit," he said.

I'm Caty Weaver.

George Grow adapted this Associated Press story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.

Words in This Story

fly swatter – n. a hand-held device, usually made of plastic, for killing insects

soap – n. a substance used with water for cleaning and washing

wine – n. an alcoholic drink made from grapes

regular – adj. normal; traditional

stocking – n. women's clothing that fits over the foot and stretches up the leg

quit – v. to leave permanently; to give up

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