The good news is that the colorful, distinctive spotted lanternfly is easy to identify. The bad news is that the pest of many permanent crops, including grapes and tree fruit, may have been observed in North Central Washington. 

State officials are urging Okanogan County residents to keep an eye out for the pest, which has been spreading across the Eastern U.S. since it was first detected in Pennsylvania in 2014. Dead insects have been detected in California and Oregon, but this reported sighting is a first for Washington.

Washington State Department of Agriculture entomologists have not been able to confirm the report they received last week, including photographs, of five live spotted lanternflies, SLF, in the Omak area, according to a news release from the agency. 

If it becomes established, it could threaten many of Washington’s key crops, resulting in costly quarantines and increased pesticide use, the agency warned. 

“Our search revealed abundant host material in the area,” Sven Spichiger, WSDA managing entomologist said in a statement. “For the next several weeks, we ask people to look for both adults and egg masses. If they think they found any suspected life stage of the pest, they should report it.”   

The adult spotted lanternflies are about an inch long and have grey upper wings with distinctive black spots and red and black hind wings, which give them a rosy tint at rest. Nymphs are black with white spots in earlier stages of development, and black and red with white spots in their final instar. Egg masses are grey. 

The WSDA is also urging the public to report the invasive species preferred host, tree-of-heaven, which is itself invasive. Officials hope that proactively mapping and removing tree-of-heaven could reduce the risk of spotted lanternfly introductions in the future. 

For more information, see this WSDA Ag Brief:

by Kate Prengaman