Invasive species closer to calling Kentucky home

Invasive species closer to calling Kentucky home
Published: Mar. 8, 2023 at 12:37 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - An invasive species is closer to calling Kentucky its home.

Experts at the University of Kentucky say the spotted lanternfly has been spotted close to the Kentucky border in Ohio and Indiana.

The invasive bug has the potential to disrupt multiple industries. It can impact wine, apples, Christmas trees, hops and Kentucky’s sizable forest industries.

“Spotted lanternflies feed on over 70 different host plants and could really wreck a number of small commodities we have in the state,” said Jonathan Larson, entomology assistant professor. “They also feed on hardwood trees, so once they get in people’s yards, their numbers can just explode. It kind of becomes a quality-of-life issue. Some people in Pennsylvania, where the lanternflies were first discovered in 2014, don’t even want to go outside anymore. There’s so many of these bugs jumping and flying around on their property.”

While feeding, the spotted lanternfly excretes a sugary substance called honeydew. When large lanternfly populations establish themselves, the insects create so much honeydew that black sooty mold thrives, negatively impacting other vegetation. This honeydew also attracts stinging insects, who feed on the sugary material. Even though the impacts of infestation in diverse woodlands and natural areas are not as straightforward as in more uniform agricultural and landscape settings, the extra strain the bug puts on trees’ resources may worsen tree stress.

“The spotted lanternfly can really devastate plant health, so if someone sees something they suspect is a lanternfly they either need to catch it or take a picture,” Larson said. “Other insects in the state can resemble the spotted lanternfly, so we must verify the insect first.”

Stripes and spots adorn an adult’s front wings, while the back wings are a brilliant red, contrasting with the rest of the body’s white, black and khaki coloring.

If spotted lanternflies appear in Kentucky and stay relatively contained, Larson said professionals may be able to locally eradicate the insects to prevent their spread and establishment. Treating potential host trees with insecticides and eradicating Tree-of-Heaven and other preferred hosts will help with containment.

Early detection increases the chances of controlling the insect’s spread.

When WKYT spoke with Larson in September 2022 about the insect, he said if you find the spotted lantern fly in your backyard, take a picture of it, report it, and then kill it.

Send your spotted lanternfly reports, including pictures, to

A new insect may soon call Kentucky home, and it’s one we don’t want in the Bluegrass.
A new insect may soon call Kentucky home, and it’s one we don’t want in the Bluegrass.(USDA)