Invasive Species in Ontario

The spotted lanternfly is an invasive species from Southeastern Asia that poses a threat to Ontario’s wine-growing industry.  It has been recently detected in New York state, not far from the Niagara wine-growing region.

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According to the Invasive Species Centre, the spotted lanternfly is an invasive plant-hopper native to Southeast Asia. The insect was first detected in Pennsylvania in 2014 and since then has advanced to several other states, including Monroe and Erie Counties of New York, which are very close to the Niagara wine region. It has not yet been detected in Canada, but industry experts say it’s only a matter of time.

The spotted lanternfly has caused a great deal of destruction to grape vines and other tender fruit trees in the United States.  The insect sucks the sap out of grape vines, causing them to collapse.  If left unchecked, the insects could devastate entire vineyards, which would each cost upwards of $45,000 an acre to replant.  It is a much more aggressive pest than previous pests.

A 2019 study completed by Pennsylvania State University estimated that the insect caused between $43 million and $99 million US since being detected.  Although the study also includes nursery operators and Christmas tree growers, researchers noted that grape growers were hit especially hard. Pennsylvania has experienced a loss of between 45% to 100% of wine grape crops. 

Insecticide application in some vineyards and orchards in the affected areas have gone from four applications per season up to 14 applications, increasing industry expenditures and potential negative impact to the environment.

Early detection will be the key to mitigating the damage caused by the spotted lanternfly.  It’s easier to control and a lot less expensive at the prevention stage.  At the management stage it has proven to be very difficult to control and eradicate.

An adult spotted lanternfly can be identified by its black and grey spots and bright red underwing.  Their wings are about 2 centimetres or 1 inch long.  They will often be found clustered together on a tree.

The eggs are brown, seed-like, covered in a grey, mud-coloured secretion.  They will be grouped together in a vertical formation, usually found on trees, but can be laid on any surface, including cars.

The nymphs grow in four stages, starting out with black and white spots but as they mature they gain red spots with distinctive patches of black and white.

Spotted lanternflies spread into new environments in two ways. They are not strong flyers but are able to cling well to a variety of surfaces. They will hold on to people and vehicles who move through heavily infested areas. Their eggs masses are very difficult to spot and can be laid on almost any material, including stone, cut logs, Christmas trees, rusty metal, boats or grills. Egg masses are laid on an object then covered by a shiny, grey, putty-like material that darkens and turns brittle overtime.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is currently surveying for spotted lanternflies in high-risk areas to assist with early detection.  However, we can all help prevent the spread of spotted lanternfly by buying and burning local firewood, checking ourselves and our belongings thoroughly after visiting an infested area, and watching for egg masses especially during the winter.  If spotted, take photos, note the location, and report the sighting to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The pending invasion of the spotted lanternfly is an example of a larger problem linked to climate change.  The longer growing season and more temperate winters caused by rising temperatures are allowing more invasive species to spread into the region and to live longer.

Sláinte mhaith

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