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USA - New technique traces invasion of Spotted Lanternfly

The invasive spotted lanternfly arrived in Pennsylvania in 2014. This red, black, white, and yellow insect can suck the sap and life out of about 70 different plant species, from grapes to hardwoods.

Its crusty, gray egg masses stick to almost any surface. As they adhere even to the tires of vehicles, the spotted lanternfly (SLF) travels awfully well. In a few years, it has spread from Pennsylvania to nearby states, and, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is capable of going national.

Scientists have been working feverishly to figure out the lanternfly’s life cycle to reveal any Achilles’ heel that could make it vulnerable to control measures. The search has just become easier. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University reported in the journal Environmental Entomology how a safe, stable isotope of nitrogen sprayed on host plants is ingested by spotted lanternflies that feed on them, thus labeling the insects so they can be readily traced for life, from egg to adult.

“We demonstrated that two stable isotope dosages applied to the host plants were assimilated by the insect and equally detectable in the exoskeleton, wings, and mature eggs ready to be oviposited,” the scientists reported. “This safe and reliable method can be used to examine fundamental processes of the biology and ecology of SLF that range from dietary resources and resource allocation to food-web structure and dispersal patterns.”

This new tool for combating SLF could be coming just in time. “If allowed to spread in the United States, this pest could seriously impact the country’s grape, orchard, and logging industries,” warns USDA. The major concerns are its enormous host range on plants and its lack of natural enemies in the United States.

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