Emelie Swackhamer lives in Longswamp Township in Berks County and one day, while traveling to the Brandywine Community Library—housed in Old Main at The Lutheran Home at Topton—she noticed insect eggs from last winter in trees on the Topton campus.
The eggs were those of the invasive spotted lanternfly, an insect native to parts of Asia discovered in Berks County in 2014.
“They were high up in the trees,” she says, “but I thought to myself, Topton is going to be swarming with them when they become adults and can fly.”
It was not an idle observation. Swackhamer is a horticulture extension educator with the Penn State Extension in Montgomery County and a licensed pesticide applicator with the state Department of Agriculture and is now part of a team coordinating research into how to eliminate the pest.
The Lutheran Home at Topton, she notes, is providing an ideal laboratory.
“On the campus, there are about 40 red maple trees that are all uniform in age and size and health,” she explains, noting that the similarity among the trees provides the ideal research setting for testing a variety of insecticides on the insect. The focus of this research is controlling the threat to ornamental plants, landscaping and quality of life; other research is greared to issues with grapes and tree fruit.
According to Penn State, the fly, Lycorma delicatula, has spread throughout southeastern Pennsylvania and “presents a significant threat to Pennsylvania agriculture, including the grape, tree-fruit, hardwood and nursery industries, which collectively are worth nearly $18 billion to the state’s economy.”
“The setting at Topton is really valuable for this effort,” says Swackhamer. “It’s hard to find this type of good research site.” In fact, researchers will be able to test an insecticide not previously used against the insect.
The effort poses no public health concerns, she adds. “We will not be spraying in large volumes and we use extreme caution. Trunk spray will be used from about four feet and down.” In addition, soil and trunk injections will be tested to determine the efficacy of those methods.
According to Paul Moriatry of The Lutheran Home at Topton staff, “the testing will run from the first week in July through October, each tested tree will be clearly marked, some trees will be partially enclosed with mesh or mesh put at the tree’s base so that researchers can monitor test results.”
“We are pleased that we are working collaboratively with Penn State to see if this threat to our state’s agriculture can be eliminated,” says Mark Pile, Diakon president/CEO. “It is another example of our focus on how we can benefit the community in addition to our direct service.”
The Penn State Extension Service notes that “the spotted lanternfly attacks fruit trees, but not the fruit itself. It uses its piercing-sucking mouthparts to feed on the sap in trunks, branches, twigs and leaves. These oozing wounds will leave a greyish or black trail along the bark of the plant.
“As it digests the sap, the insect excretes a substance known as honeydew that, along with sap from these weeping wounds, can attract bees and other insects. There may be a buildup of this sticky fluid on infested plants and on the ground below. The honeydew and sap also provide a medium for growth of fungi, such as sooty mold, which can cover leaf surfaces and stunt growth. Plants with heavy infestations may not survive.”
The state Department of Agriculture advises people that if “you see egg masses, scrape them off, double bag them and throw them away. You can also place the eggs into alcohol or hand sanitizer to kill them. Please report all destroyed egg masses on [the state Department of Agriculture’s] website.”
Photographs courtesy Penn State Extension Service