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An invasive, destructive insect has been found in Iowa

SLF-spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) adult winged
Stephen Ausmus
The spotted lanternfly is known for its bright red hind wings with black spots. Though, the two found in Iowa were smaller, younger insects that have black bodies with white spots.

A pesky and destructive bug has made its way to Iowa.

Its discovery doesn’t mean immediate devastation of Iowa’s fruit and woody trees, but it does raise alarms if it were to spread.

The potential of a full-blown spread of the bug could be the devastation of grapes, apples and other specialty crops in the state.

The closest known infestations are hundreds of miles away in Ohio and Indiana, so Iowa’s state entomologist Robin Pruisner said she didn’t expect the spotted lanternfly to make such a large jump to Iowa.

“It appears that we've got hitchhikers, not a reproducing population that we are aware of at this time,” Pruisner said.

The spotted lanternfly — native to China — jumps from plant to plant and feeds on sap. It leaves behind a sticky substance that can develop a sooty mold, which blocks a plant’s process of photosynthesis and can kill the plant.

The bug feeds on fruit, ornamental and woody trees.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, spotted lanternfly populations are found in 11 states, including Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana and Ohio. It was first seen in Pennsylvania in 2014.

It first showed up in Iowa earlier this month on a maple tree in Dallas County, Pruisner said. Someone called the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and sent a photo to the department, triggering an investigation.

Courtesy of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship
The person who found the spotted lanternfly in Dallas County sent in this photo to the Iowa Department of Agriculture

The person who reported the insect found the second one a week later in the same area. They were both immature, meaning they were small and black with white spots on their bodies. Adult spotted lanternflies have bright red hind wings, white bands and black spots.

Insect identifiers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed the two immature spotted lanternflies in Iowa. IDALS on Tuesday announced the presence of the insect in the state.

Spotted lanternflies can attach their egg masses on vehicles, firewood, or even lawn chairs and hitch a ride for a long distance. That’s how Pruisner thinks the two young ones found their way to Iowa.

“An egg mass, at least one, has been somehow brought to Iowa, whether it be on nursery stock or hardscape or anything that they will lay their eggs on,” Pruisner said. “Those emerged here in Iowa and we're just seeing them now.”

Pruisner said there aren’t any signs of an ongoing infestation. However, she is encouraging people to be alert. If people see or suspect the bug, they can report it to the state’s Entomology and Plant Sciences Bureau.

Katie Peikes is IPR's agriculture reporter