Get Ready to Stomp and Squash: Illinois’ First Infestation of Dreaded Spotted Lanternfly Confirmed in Chicago

The dreaded spotted lanternfly, an invasive species capable of devastating trees and agriculture, has arrived in Illinois, the Illinois Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday.

The first report of the insect was made on Sept. 16 and a small population was located Sept. 18. Specimens were collected and confirmation was received Tuesday, officials said.

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The insect was found in the Fuller Park neighborhood of Chicago, according to a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Agriculture. 

The Dan Ryan Expressway bisects Fuller Park, which is bounded by Pershing Road on the north and Garfield Boulevard on the south.  

Though the news was unwelcome, it wasn’t surprising.

“Spotted lanternfly has been inching closer to the Midwest and Illinois for close to a decade,” said Jerry Costello II, director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, in a statement. “We have had a multi-agency team working to prepare for this scenario — including efforts on readiness, informing and educating the industry and the public, as well as monitoring early detection.”

A native of China that was first identified in Pennsylvania in 2014, spotted lanternfly (Lycorma deliculata) has since spread to New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia, and has more recently been reported in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.

Adult spotted lanternfly. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)Adult spotted lanternfly. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

The pest damages plants as it sucks sap from branches, stems and tree trunks. Plants and trees are weakened not only by the repeated feedings but by a sticky fluid the spotted lanternfly excretes, which promotes mold growth.

The primary threat is to fruit trees and plants including grape, hop, apple, pear, cherry, plum, peaches and almonds. Maple, oak, poplar, sycamore, willow and walnut trees are also at risk. The Washington State Fruit Commission is already running worst-case scenario models if the insect takes hold there.

One of spotted lanternfly’s preferred hosts is the equally problematic invasive tree of heaven, which officials said should be targeted for monitoring activities, along with grapes (both wild and cultivated) and maple trees.

Scott Schirmer, Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Nursery and Northern Field Office Section Manager, said there was no reason to believe spotted lanternfly would cause widespread plant or tree death in the state, but its impact would be felt regardless.

“This is likely going to be a nuisance pest that interferes with our ability to enjoy outdoor spaces and may have some impact on the agritourism industry, including orchards, pumpkin patches and vineyards,” Schirmer said.

For an idea of what “nuisance” means, check out this infestation in Pittsburgh.

As Illinois officials work with federal and local partners to determine the full extent of the infestation, they're encouraging people to report any believed sightings to [email protected]; be sure to include photos.

With its distinctive polka-dotted wings, an adult spotted lanternfly is fairly easy to identify. Click here for additional images of the insects eggs and nymph stages.

If you do see any, here’s what to do:

— Take photos so you can send in a report.

— Crush nymphs and adults.

— Scrape eggs into a container and kill them by dousing them with hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol.

— Check your vehicles, boat, camper, outdoor gear, etc. — before leaving an area — for any life stages. Destroy any eggs or insects found.

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 |  [email protected]

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