The Delaware Department of Agriculture’s quarantine on the spotted lanternfly is largely an education and outreach effort as opposed to one based around issuing penalties to violators.

The state agency issued a quarantine for 11 zip codes in northern New Castle County – including Hockessin and Pike Creek – on Feb. 28 to prevent the spread of the invasive insect that attacks a number of different host plants and is a threat to crops.

The quarantine means that any material or object that could harbor the pest cannot be moved without taking precautions to prevent the insect’s spread as their hatching season of April/May approaches.

Discovered in Delaware in 2017, the insect from Asia was first detected in the United States in Pennsylvania in 2014. Considered an invasive species, the spotted lanternfly has since been found in New York and New Jersey.

The destructive bug is known as a “hitchhiker,” referring to its practice of stowing away in vehicles or transported plants – a likely indicator of how the insect has spread from neighboring states.

The following zip codes in New Castle County have been quarantined: 19702, 19703, 19707, 19711, 19801, 19802, 19803, 19805, 19807, 19808 and 19810.

A quarantine means that any material or object that could harbor the pest cannot be moved without taking precautions to prevent the spread.

The problems lanternflies cause

According to the DDA, when the spotted lanternfly feeds, it excretes sugary water on and around the feeding site that encourages the growth of black sooty mold that can damage plants and make outside recreation areas unusable.

The sap will also attract other insects to feed, notably wasps and ants.

Jessica Inhof, DDA plant industries program administrator, said the plant hopper will attach itself or its egg sack to virtually any surface, particularly anything that’s been stored outside for a length of time.

Inhof noted that Pennsylvania’s quarantine was successful in limiting the spread of the insect.

“There was an extreme explosion prior to that,” Inhof said.

It is particularly attracted to the Ailanthus altissima, also known as Chinese sumac or the “Tree of Heaven,” itself considered an invasive species due to its ability to rapidly grow and spread.

While the insect will plant eggs almost anywhere, it is attracted to crops including grapes, apples, stone fruits, walnut, and willow, the latter two of which could have an impact on the lumber industry.

“If you have [a Tree of Heaven], you should be careful, or even think about removing it,” said Peg Castoriani, owner of Gateway Garden Center in Hockessin. “It’s important in general to curtail the spread of invasives.”

Castoriani said her business and her suppliers are compliant with the DDA’s guidelines for preventing the spread of the spotted lanternfly, which includes an extensive checklist of steps from checking product to how to dispose of the insects and their eggs properly.

“Invasive insects like to live with their invasive species of plant,” Castoriani said. “And it’s a beautiful web of life, but when you introduce a tree from China, you get their pests, and they’re very detrimental to our trees and crops.”

Invasive insects are an issue because the necessary predators and pathogens that might control their spread are not present in their new environment, Castoriani said.

However, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture noted that pesticides containing neonicotinoids, pyrethrins, and organophosphates are effective against spotted lanternfly.

“We’re committed to being vigilant, but it’s difficult,” Castoriani said. “They will plant their eggs anywhere – lawn chairs, your decks, anywhere.”

Quarantine requirements

Businesses, municipalities or government agencies that require movement of any regulated item within or from the quarantine area must have a permit, available through the DDA spotted lanternfly website.

To obtain a permit, a designated individual from an organization must receive training and pass an online test to demonstrate a working knowledge and understanding of the pest and quarantine requirements. Training of other employees, inspection of vehicle and products and removal of living stages of spotted lanternfly must be completed. The permit demonstrates the individual understands how to identify the pest and can ensure the items transported are not carrying the insect.

Inhof said the quarantine will likely be in effect for at least a year, with the agency yet to decide how to approach enforcement of any violations.

She added that although there are fines between $100 and $1,000, the situation is not being used to make money by targeting individuals and businesses.

“Our plan … is to allow plenty of time for residents and businesses to comply,” she said.

For more information on the spotted lanternfly, including how to comply with the DDA’s guidelines, see the website de.gov/hitchhikerbug or call 698-4632.