By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
hochman@montclairlocal.news

If you see a spotted lanternfly, state officials say, kill it — then report it. The colorful and captivating bugs suck the life out of trees and other plants.

And they're now asking residents to be careful about what they move into several North Jersey counties as well.

The state Department of Agriculture on Monday expanded its spotted lanternfly quarantine zone to include five more counties, including Essex. The list already included Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Mercer, Salem, Somerset and Warren counties. It's now expanded north, to Morris, Monmouth, Middlesex, Essex and Union.

The quarantine now includes 13 of New Jersey's 21 counties. It's the first time since 2018, when New Jersey officials first spotted the plant-killing invasive species, that quarantines have extended this far north.

“The spotted lanternfly’s excellent hitchhiking skills on all types of transportation have allowed it to spread, making it necessary to expand the quarantine zone,” New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher said in an announcement from his department. “While we have crews working throughout the state to treat infestations of the spotted lanternfly, we are seeking the public’s assistance by asking anyone who sees this pest to destroy it whenever possible.”

The quarantine requires residents to check outdoor items — anything from bicycles to backyard grills to camping tents to plants — before moving them from the quarantine area. A checklist is at nj.gov/agriculture. The state is also asking residents to check their vehicles before leaving an area, since lanternflies can travel on vehicles for several miles.

It says if residents find lanternflies in any of their stages — egg masses, adults and nymphs — to remove the insects, kill them, put them in sealed bags and dispose of the bags in the garbage. The state asks residents who see lanternflies to report them via badbug.nj.gov or by emailing SLF-plantindustry@ag.nj.gov.

Employees of businesses that routinely travel in and out of the quarantine area must also take and pass a training on spotting the lanternfly, available at bit.ly/3mDGv2d.

The quarantine also allows the state and federal agriculture departments access to properties where spotted lanternflies are suspected or confirmed, so they can be evaluated and treated.

Adult spotted lanternflies usually develop around July and August. (Magi Kern via Unsplash)
Adult spotted lanternflies usually develop around July and August. (Magi Kern via Unsplash)
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Spotted lanternflies are native to China, India and Vietnam, and were first found in the United States In Berks County in Pennsylvania in 2014, according to the state Department of Agriculture. They've since found their way to New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, New York, Connecticut and Ohio.

They've been found in every New Jersey county, according to the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station at Rutgers University.

The lanternflies, formally known as lycorma delicatula, feed on the saps of many different plants, and can kill crops and hardwood trees. Among their targets: grapevines, maples and black walnuts. They're particularly fond of the Tree of Heaven, which is common in New Jersey. The lanternflies mostly feed on the trunk and limbs of plants, not their leaves or fruits, though young nymphs may feed on leaves, the Experiment Station says. Adults tend to feed in large concentrations.

"The spotted lanternfly uses its piercing-sucking mouthpart to feed on sap from over 70 different plant species," the state agriculture department says on its website. "It has a strong preference for economically important plants and the feeding damage significantly stresses the plants which can lead to decreased health and potentially death."

Lanternfly nymphs are usually seen in the spring and summer months. They start off black with white spots, then eventually develop red patches, red wing pads and a red upper body.

The nymphs mature into adults around July and August, according to the Experiment Station. They're "quite colorful with a black head, grayish black spotted forewings, and reddish black spotted hind wings," it says on its website. The lanternflies are about 1 inch long and half an inch wide. They have yellow abdomens with black and wind bands.

They lay their eggs in October on smooth surfaces and "appear like a patch of mud," the Experiment Station says on its site. During the winter, they're likely to be accidentally transported to new locations, it says.

"Because they spend at least one month as adults before laying eggs, this could be a critical time for management," the Experiment Station says.

Spotted lanternflies, though potentially devastating to plant populations, do not bite humans or animals.