The spotted lanternfly is an invasive pest that has infested southern New England states. Maine officials are on the lookout in case it shows up here. Credit: Courtesy of Sarah Scully

A year after the first evidence of spotted lanternflies in Maine was reported, only one of the invasive insects has been located — and it was dead.

Last September staff with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry confirmed egg masses belonging to the spotted lanternfly in four Maine communities,the first time evidence of the invasive pest had been reported in the state. A year later, followup inspections have found no further signs of live bugs.

But with infestations reported this year in Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia, officials here are on the lookout for both the lanterfly and a tree that is important to its lifecycle.

The egg masses that were reported a year ago were found in Freeport, Yarmouth, Boothbay and Northeast Harbor, according to Gary Fish, state horticulturist with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. All were found on trees imported to Maine from a nursery in New Hampshire. That New Hampshire nursery had gotten those trees from  Pennsylvania.

“We followed up about a month ago and our survey specialist and an inspector went to check four trees in Freeport and one in Yarmouth,” Fish said. “They did a visual survey to see if there were any signs of spotted lanternfly nymphs or new egg masses and found nothing.”

It was determined last year that the egg masses that had been reported in Boothbay and Northeast Harbor had hatched before coming into the state, Fish said, so they were not part of this summer’s inspection.

Fish said his office is also in ongoing communications with nurseries, plant sales, landscapers and lawn care businesses around the state. So far, the state has gotten only one report of a dead spotted lanternfly that arrived in a shipment of fertilizer from Pennsylvania at the Urban Garden Center in Lewiston.

“We checked the whole store and found nothing,” Fish said. “That fertilizer came from the heart of the infestation area in Pennsylvania and we think there were more than one or two dead ones that got mixed in.”

Now is the time of year people would be seeing them, Fish said. Spotted lanternflies are about an inch long and half an inch wide. They have gray wings with black spots. When the lanternfly is flying, you can see its bright red secondary wings.

Spotted lanternflies pose a significant threat to wine grapes and hops, Fish said. In 2019, researchers at Pennsylvania State University’s college of agricultural sciences warned that damage caused by the spotted lanternfly could cost the state’s economy $325 million a year.

They are also a nuisance, Fish said. Lanternflies poop out streams of a sticky substance called honeydew that promotes the growth of a sooty mold. It can ruin vegetables and ornamental plants and get all over outdoor furniture, cars and buildings.

Fish said the lanternflies can easily travel from one place to another and state to state simply by hopping a ride on a passing truck or camper. They also like to lay their eggs on flat surfaces like trailers, car bumpers or RVs.

In addition to monitoring for the lanternfly, Fish said the state is also on the lookout for the tree of heaven, a fast growing invasive species that is a favorite food of the lanterfly. Where you find one, Fish said, you often find the other.

Also called stinking sumac or stink tree, the tree of heaven grows so quickly it can crowd out native species. It also releases a chemical into the soil that can kill other plants or trees. If that was not bad enough, the tree of heaven smells really bad.

“People say if you break off a stem or crinkle a leaf it smells like rancid peanut butter,” Fish said. “We would like to know if anyone has it or sees it in Maine so we can monitor it for spotted lanternflies.”

No one knows why, Fish said, but the tree of heaven is the favorite food of the female spotted lanternfly at the end of her lifecycle as she prepares to lay her eggs.

If you do observe a spotted lanternfly or a tree of heaven, you can report it to the state on its social media page Maine Bug Watch, or by emailing bugwatch@maine.gov.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.