Invasive spotted lanternfly, which threatens fruit trees and other plants, reaches Illinois

The invasive spotted lanternfly has been identified in Illinois for the first time, the Illinois Department of Agriculture said Tuesday.

Environmentalists across the state have long dreaded the arrival of the nuisance species, notorious for its spotted red and brown wings and the threat it poses to the more than 70 types of fruit trees and other plants it is known to consume. The East Asian insect was first identified in Pennsylvania around eight years ago and has been making its way west with rides hitched on railroad cars, semitrucks and other vehicles.

It has worked its way into Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Iowa.

“Spotted lanternfly has been inching closer to the Midwest and Illinois for close to a decade,” said Agriculture Department Director Jerry Costello II in a news release Tuesday. “We have had a multi-agency team working to prepare for this scenario — including efforts on readiness, informing and educating the industry and the public, as well as monitoring early detection.”

Reports of a live spotted lanternfly in Illinois were first received by the state Agriculture Department on Sept. 16. Officials from the federal, state and local governments visited the site and identified a “moderately populated area,” according to the release. The investigators collected specimens and received results Tuesday that confirmed the species had arrived.

There is no reason to believe widespread plant or tree death will result from the insect’s presence, said Scott Schirmer, the Agriculture Department’s nursery and northern field office section manager.

“This is likely going to be a nuisance pest that interferes with our ability to enjoy outdoor spaces and may have some impact on the agritourism industry, including orchards, pumpkin patches, and vineyards,” Schirmer said.

The insect moves easily on trains, wood surfaces, products and more, making it hard to contain, the news release said.

“Prevention and early detection are vital to limiting its ability to move and intrude upon new areas,” it continued. “We need the public’s help to look for and report this pest, and to also strengthen the outreach about it. It will likely impact everyone in Illinois one way or another, so the more awareness we have the better.”

Authorities encouraged people who see the bug to report sightings to — and to crush it. Illinoisans should also check their vehicles and outdoor gear for bugs and eggs and destroy them if found, the release said.

The state Agriculture Department is trying to determine how widely the pest has infested the state, it continued.

The spotted lanternfly has become the target of kill-on-sight requests in places including New York City, where it swarms outside buildings and lands on pedestrians, all the while secreting a sticky “honeydew” substance that can cling to outdoor furniture.

It’s known to feed on plants that grow apples, peaches, cherries, hops and grapes. It also feeds on trees including maple, oak, walnut, sycamore, pine and willow.

“It’s not likely to kill a tree on its own, but if the tree is already weakened by drought stress or disease, an infestation by spotted lanternflies could be the knockout punch,” Tricia Bethke, forest pest outreach coordinator at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, told the Tribune last year.