The invasive spotted lanternfly was found in Kansas. Here's how to help stop them from spreading.

Greg Williams
Topeka Capital-Journal
A spotted lanternfly, like this one, was found in Thomas County in western Kansas.

A 4-H student attended the Kansas State Fair to give a presentation on a bug. The effort triggered a state and federal investigation.

The spotted lanternfly is an invasive species wreaking havoc to agriculture on the East Coast, especially across Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The student found the bug in Thomas County in western Kansas, where it most likely had arrived by hitchhiking onto a camper.

Here's what you need to know about the spread of the spotted lanternfly, how it could impact Kansas and what's being done to stop it.

More:Kansas student's state fair entry triggers a federal spotted lanternfly investigation

What is a spotted lanternfly?

Lanternflies are a diverse group of bugs, but they are no flies. These bugs are related to such insects as cicadas, treehoppers and thorn bugs. Lanternflies belong to the Fulgoridae family, which is principally found in the tropics.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the pests could seriously impact the country's grape, orchard and logging industries. 

The herbivores have a small beak to pierce plant tissues and feed on its fluids. They get their name "lanternfly" because their head can resemble a Chinese lantern. 

Lanternflies are an East Asian species that typically feeds on Ailanthus (the Chinese "Tree of Heaven"), but it will feed on various crops, including stone fruits and grapes. 

The first sighting of the lanternfly in the United States was in 2014 in Pennsylvania. Since then, the insect has been found in 11 states, including Kansas.  

How did the spotted lanternfly get to Kansas?

Spotted lanternfly adults have gray wings with dark spots and a flash of red.

In the fall or early winter, depending on the weather, lanternflies will seek flat surface areas and lay mud-like egg masses on tree bark, outdoor gear (lawnmowers, bikes, and grills), methods of transportation, bricks, stone, metal, and more.

In this case, if travelers are passing through lanternfly quarantine areas (Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia), the bug most likely latched on and made its way to Kansas.

"Lanternflies are accidentally introduced into various places," said Michael S. Engel, senior curator of the University of Kansas entomology division. "Because they lack natural predators and parasites, they can quickly spread and grow their populations."

Travelers passing through quarantine areas should thoroughly check their vehicles, trailers and the clothes they are wearing to avoid accidentally moving the spotted lanternfly somewhere new.

More:Meet the spotted lanternfly, the bug health officials are begging you to kill on sight

What makes spotted lanternflies dangerous?

Spotted lanternfly nymphs feed on a tree limb in this undated photo provided by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets. The bug can severely damage maple trees, as well as grape, hop and berry crops.

Lanternflies will suck sap and take large amounts of a sugar-rich, sticky liquid called honeydew, which will kill more than 70 varieties of crops and plants.

The APHIS says these crops and trees are at risk when lanternflies are in the area:

  • Almonds.
  • Apples.
  • Apricots.
  • Cherries.
  • Grapes.
  • Hops.
  • Maple trees.
  • Nectarines.
  • Oak trees.
  • Peaches.
  • Pine trees.
  • Plums.
  • Poplar trees.
  • Sycamore trees.
  • Walnut trees.
  • Willow trees.

Engel said when the lanternflies population grows, "The waste they secrete can block the plant from photosynthesizing and the fungal growth can be so extreme that it kills the plants."

There's also a fear that these bugs can transfer plant viruses between plants, but this hasn't been confirmed.

What's being done to contain spotted lanternflies?

A group of spotted lanternflies swarm a tree.

Given that the discovery of lanternflies in Kansas is so recent and there's only one sample, the Kansas Department of Agriculture is still trying to assess the situation. 

"What we're doing right now is we have our staff at the place where the lanternfly was found originally," said Heather Lansdowne, communications director of the Kansas Department of Agriculture. "The staff is doing some surveying and trying to determine if there's actual evidence of a population living out there."

The 10 states that have a population of lanternflies have put out PDFs and websites about how they are dealing with the dangerous insect. 

New York has put in place regulatory actions with multiple state and federal partners and has outreached to the public, trade groups and other stakeholders to provide up-to-date information related to the lanternflies. 

Pennsylvania has put together a map of all the counties where there's an existing quarantine. The state has also prohibited the movement of any lanternflies and examples of regulated articles.

More:Over 45 counties across PA and NJ are under quarantine – because of the spotted lanternfly

What can you do about spotted lanternflies?

Lanternflies are easy to see in the fall since they've reached their adult size. Crush any of the adult insects, then scrape egg masses into a plastic bag containing hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol to kill them. 

If you're going through any of the quarantined areas or if you're receiving shipments from those areas, check your vehicle and items. You should also check outdoor items, then inspect trees and plants, especially at dusk or night, because they tend to feed around that time. 

If anyone were to discover the insect, they should immediately contact the Kansas Department of Agriculture at 785-564-6700 (Manhattan office) or 785-296-3556 (Topeka office).

London Gibson, of the Indianapolis Star, contributed to this report.

Greg Williams can be reached at or on Twitter at @GregWilliams28.