Spotted Lanternfly infestation discovered in North Carolina a concern

Could be devastating on agricultural and wine industries

Ocean Isle Beach, NC (WWAY) – An insect causing problems in the Northeastern part of the country has now been spotted in the Tarheel state.

It was only a matter of time before the spotted lanternfly would reach North Carolina, and it appears it now has less than 200 miles from the Cape Fear region, according to experts like Invasive Species Scientist Kelly Oten.

She said the insect, is an expert stowaway and most likely it or an egg mass traveled on a vehicle down Interstate 40, eventually settling in the state.

“Until a few weeks ago it was never found in the state,” she said. “And we have a very diverse ecosystem here this insect feeds on over 100 diverse species of plants.”

The insect was first discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014, then about seven years later, an infestation was reported near the Virginia-North Carolina border, according to Oten. Scientists have been keeping an eye on the insect, which is classified as a plant hopper, similar to cicadas.

Spotted lanternfly may have a pretty appearance but the destruction and economic impact on the agriculture and wine industries isn’t.

They are not leaf eaters but rather feed on a varied landscape and woody trees, their favorites are fruit trees, hop plants, and grape vines.

The spotted lanternfly may be a nuisance to homeowners attracting biting insects like yellow jackets, ants, or bees but to a vineyard the likelihood of loss of revenue.

“They love to feed on grapes and here in North Carolina we have an almost $2 billion wine-making industry,” said Oten.

Maryann Charlap Azzato owns Silver Coast Winery in Ocean Isle Beach, and is very concerned, especially after being hit by the pandemic.

“We had a rough time just getting back on our feet and not having the availability to source our grapes might be a real problem,” she said. “We get our grapes from the Yadkin Valley area.”

The spotted lanternflies have been located, within about a 5-mile radius, in the Kernersville area, just east of Winston Salem, according to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Which is near Yadkin Valley Wine Country, also known as the Nappa Valley of North Carolina, according to Maryann’s son Gabriel Azzato, who is learning the family business as an apprentice on the vineyard.

“It’s the largest wine region in North Carolina”, he said.

The insect getting to the crop can reduce the yield by 90 percent, which won’t be good for business, according to Gabriel.

“Especially now with high fuel prices having to outsource out of North Carolina would be detrimental to our bottom line,” he said.

Oten urges anyone who sees a spotted lanternfly to take a picture to report it, then kill it immediately.

“I will say the NCDA (North Carolina Department of Agriculture)  is working really hard to get rid of it, they are hitting it as hard as they can,” she said. “I’m personally optimist they’ll succeed, but invasive insects always surprise us, so only time will tell.”

The insect is attracted to water, so anyone with a pool should inspect the water and filters, the best way to prevent them from spreading is to identify them as soon as possible so scientists can eradicate them.

To report a discovered spotted lanternfly click here.

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