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Northeast Ohio among U.S. metro areas most affected by invasive bug, study says

This Sept. 19, 2019, file photo shows a spotted lanternfly at a vineyard in Kutztown, Pa.
Matt Rourke
The spotted lanternfly attacks fruit plants, such as grapes and apples, and ornamental and woody trees, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. A primary host is the Tree of Heaven.

The Cleveland-Akron metro area is ranked 11th among U.S. metro areas likely to be impacted by the spotted lanternfly, an invasive insect species that has the ability to impact crop production, according to TruGreen, a national lawn care company.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture reported findings of spotted lanternflies, a species native to Asia, in Cuyahoga, Jefferson and Lorain counties in 2021. But the species’ reach is likely greater now, experts say.

“Now we're seeing, ‘Oh, wait, it's popping up in Franklin. Oh, it's in Toledo. Oh, it's in Lucas County.’ We’re seeing all of these pop-ups,” said Ashley Leach, an entomologist at Ohio State University.

The studyalso named Youngstown and Columbus among the top 20 affected cities nationwide.

The insects were first found in Pennsylvania in 2014 and have since spread to Ohio, Delaware, Virginia and New Jersey. When fully grown, they can be identified by their black and white spotted wings and red abdomen.

In 2021, the ODA designated spotted lanternflies a destructive plant pest under Ohio law because they have the potential to impact agriculture.

“It's not an insect that's going to come through, chew (a) plant to death and just kill it,” Leach said. “That's not going to happen. It's kind of like a vampire. Like a very tiny vampire over a really long time is going to cause a problem.”

Spotted lanternflies are attracted to specialty crops, specifically grapes. And since the state has so many wineries, the insects have an opportunity to impact Ohio, Leach said.

“The potential for this insect to be impactful to those wineries is really high because on top of this pest being a nuisance, a lot of these wineries have really nice outdoor tasting areas as well,” she said. “If you have spotted lanternfly swarming those tasting areas, it's not going to be as nice for those patrons to go and sit and (have) their wine.”

However, the species is manageable, Leach said.

“This is a pest we are going to contend with,” she said. “But we have the tools we need to reduce the impact.”

To prevent the spread of spotted lanternflies, the ODA asks those traveling with outdoor materials from infested areas to conduct self-inspections.

Any sightings should be reported using the Ohio Plant Pest Reporter online tool or by calling the ODA at 614-728-6400.

Jenna Bal was a news intern at Ideastream Public Media from January 2023 to May 2024.