If a BOLO alert could be issued across the state for an insect, residents would be urged to be on the lookout for a funny-looking pest that threatens local crops and the economy.

Tim Abbey of Penn State Extension recently briefed Franklin County commissioners on the invasive insect that has made its way to Pennsylvania.

The spotted lanternfly is an invasive planthopper native to China, India and Vietnam and introduced to Korea that attacks many hosts, including grapes, apples, stone fruits and the tree of heaven.

The insect was discovered in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in September 2014, and has wreaked havoc on the environment since.

"This is a pest that has continued to spread since its introduction into Pennsylvania," Abbey said.

Its name, however, is a bit of a misnomer.

"It's not really a fly," Abbey explained. "It's actually a type of plant hopper."

A growing threat 

The lanternfly feeds by piercing the tissue of trees and sucking the sap. After gorging itself, the sugary fluid known as "honeydew" leaks and coats leaves and stems of the host plant, which can encourage mold growth and other disease.

Abbey said when an area is infested with the pests, the honeydew can literally rain down onto lawns, decks and picnic tables, leaving a mess of slime. The insects don't bite and they don't transmit disease.

"The honeydew isn't dangerous, but it does tend to attract stinging insects, so if you have an allergy to bees, that's a concern," Abbey warned.

But that's not the real worry about the insects.

The lanternfly is a threat to businesses including logging, landscaping, firewood and hardwood dealers, farmers, movers and construction.

In South Korea, the lanternfly spread rapidly, causing significant damage to grape vines throughout the country in only three years.

"It's a big concern. It cuts across a lot of commodities," Abbey explained.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has committed $17.5 million to the problem and Pennsylvania officials have added $1.6 million to fight the predator.

Some of the attempts include DNA analysis, potential lures, an artificial rearing system and search for predators and parasitoids.

"There's still so much research that needs to be done," Abbey said.

Currently, he said much of the focus is being put on saving the grapes.

If the pest reaches our area, fruit and wine production could be affected, especially in Adams County, whether the insect kills off grape vines or the bugs land in and taint grape batches destined to become wine.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has established a quarantine order in counties where the fly exists.

"You can eradicate some of these pest problems," Abbey said, adding with quarantines and other methods, it took about 10 years to beat plum pox.

Abbey said the quarantine zone, which is currently focused on the southeastern part of the state near Berks County, will be expanded as the pest moves beyond that area.

 Help stop the pest 

The spotted lanternfly was discovered earlier this year as far away as Frederick County, Virginia.

Abbey said he expects the lanternfly could show up in York County this year and Adams and Franklin likely won't be far behind.

"We are taking it very seriously," said Commissioner David Keller. "It's an issue that at this point is not impacting Franklin County directly, but it well could in the not-too-distant future."

Abbey wants area residents to be vigilant and on the lookout for the pest.

The lanternfly changes it look at is ages, from the egg stage to the black and white or black, red and white nymph phase to the full-grown moth-looking brown, black and red stage.

"We don't have anything else in Pennsylvania that looks like this," Abbey said.

For more information on the spotted lanternfly, visit www.agriculture.pa.gov/Plants_Land_Water/PlantIndustry/Entomology/spotted_lanternfly/Pages/default.aspx.

Abbey urged residents who think they have found a spotted lanternfly or its egg masses to scrape it, catch it and kill it — but save the insect in a sealed plastic bag.

Then, they should contact the PDA by email at badbug@pa.gov or call the Invasive Species Hotline at 866-253-7189 or call 717-263-9226 or take the insect to the Penn State Extension office at 181 Franklin Farm Lane, Chambersburg.

"If you think you see one, report it," Abbey said. "We'd rather have people bring in something that's not what they think it is, rather than not report a possible sighting."