New Jersey’s most wanted insect – the spotted lanternfly

As the invasive species moves to Camden County, officials are advising residents to kill the insect and alert county officials as soon as possible

The spotted lanternfly, an invasive species that is not native to New Jersey, has recently reached the Garden State. Camden County officials are advising residents to get familiar with the appearance of this insect and kill it if seen to help prevent potential environmental and agricultural damage.

As Camden County entomologist, Lauren Segreto is familiar with numerous types of bugs and insects, namely mosquitos, as she heads the county’s mosquito commission.

But over approximately the past year, she’s spent a large amount of time researching, studying and tracking a different, slightly larger insect – the spotted lanternfly.

Having made its way into Camden County from eastern Pennsylvania, the Garden State is now dealing with the effects of this invasive species across multiple counties.

“We’re concerned about them because they destroy and feed on up to 70 different plants, with a lot of them being of agricultural importance,” said Segreto.

According to Segreto, the spotted lanternfly latches on to a tree and sucks the sap out of it, eventually killing it before moving on to the next one. Not natively from New Jersey, they can eat and effectively kill hardwood trees, grape vines, hops, ornamentals and more, which can prove to have a damaging impact on both the environment and agricultural economy if not dealt with quickly enough at the start of its attempted migration into the area.

Luckily for residents, people don’t have anything to worry about when it comes to their health regarding the spotted lanternfly.

“They don’t bite or harm people at all, and they don’t transmit diseases at all,” said Segreto. “They’re not actually harmful to people.”

Moving forward, Segreto and other Camden County officials are requesting the public’s assistance in eliminating all spotted lanternflies in the area. If residents find one, whether on a car, in a park or around your home, they recommend one quick, potentially tough, solution for some people.

“Kill it – simple as that, kill it. It doesn’t belong here, it never should have been here and it’s not a product of our environment, our environment is not equipped to handle it,” said Camden County Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez. “There’s a definite danger here because it’s a very aggressive, invasive species that impacts our agriculture. Being part of the Garden State, we have farms that could be very much impacted.”

After killing the spotted lanternfly, residents should also call Segreto at (856) 374-6042, so the county can continue to log and track the frequency and location of sightings of this dangerous insect.

Additionally, if possible after killing it, Rodriguez recommends attempting to preserve the remains of the specimen so the county entomologist can further test and ensure that is indeed the insect now on South Jersey’s “Number One Most Wanted List.”

Being early in the process of the insects attempted migration to the area, county officials are hoping that efforts from residents can help to eliminate the spotted lanternfly before a potential Plan B might be needed, as potential pesticides or other alternatives to dealing with the insect would almost certainly have adverse effects across other flora and fauna.

“The greatest impact that we can have as a county is to have residents become part of the process,” said Rodriguez. “As a county, we can send out a few people to investigate and such, but that’s only a few people. When we have half a million residents throughout the county that can potentially identify and get rid of something, in a way that is not detrimental to the environment … it is perhaps the most environmentally friendly way to deal with an invasive species since you’re not using any chemicals or anything else.”

Rodriguez says she advises residents to look up further information online, at the very least just pictures of the insect, to note the white and black dots on the sometimes colorful insect to better identify which insect to kill.

Segreto says she has already been receiving calls from both Camden County residents, as well as those from other counties, as Warren, Hunterdon and Mercer counties are under “quarantine” due to the insect, meaning those leaving the county are to investigate vehicles and belongings for the insect before leaving to ensure they are not accidentally transporting it.