Seeing is Believing: Ohio State University Extension Embarks on a Spotted Lanternfly Study Tour

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Like many other states in the Midwest, Ohio is preparing for imminent infestations of Spotted Lanternfly (SLF). This invasive planthopper, first detected in Pennsylvania in 2014, poses a threat to the fruit production and plant growth of valuable specialty crops, most notably grapevines. Though infestations have already been confirmed in several counties throughout Ohio, history tells us that additional infestations will continue to appear and grow. Many eastern states have already been contending with this nuisance for the past few years and possess valuable experience and knowledge.


Seven members of OSU Extension, including Extension Educators from across the state and a Viticulture Outreach Specialist, and participated in this study tour in mid-October. Funded by an internal grant targeted towards improving ANR team functioning & deliverables and organized by Lucas County ANR Extension Educator, Amy Stone, tour objectives included visiting locations in Pennsylvania and Ohio experiencing a variety of infestation levels; increasing our knowledge by speaking with experts who have firsthand SLF experience; and developing a timeline for outreach tools and materials for Ohio as we learn from others who have experienced SLF before us.


Spotted lanternfly adults infest the trunk of a tree
Adult Spotted Lanternfly infest an Ailanthus (tree of heaven)


Our tour began in Pittsburgh, PA where we visited infestations near active railways. Here, we spotted an abundance of adult SLFs and freshly laid egg masses. For some of our Extension Educators, this was their first time observing SLF, firsthand. Next, we visited Penn State Extension in Allegheny County. We spoke with Penn State Urban Forestry Extension Educator, Brian Wolyniak, who shared valuable insights on combating SLF in the urban setting and how he has adapted methods based on growing SLF populations. We also participated as a group in a webinar on reporting SLF, led by Matt Travis, SLF Policy Manager for USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.  Afterwards, Rich Vrboncic and Jason Rihn of Bartlett Tree Experts led us on an exploration of several sites throughout the Pittsburgh area that have been confronted with varying levels of SLF infestation. They discussed the pros and cons of different control methods, along with the interactions and expectations of their customer base.


OSU Extension stands in front of a site recently treated for spotted lantenfly while an arborist discusses the treatment procedure
Jason Rihn of Bartlett Tree Experts presents a site recently treated for Spotted Lanternfly


The next day was spent in Cleveland, Ohio amongst some of the earliest infestations in the state. We took part in a delimiting survey using methods established by the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Using the Great Lakes Early Detection Network (GLEDN), we surveyed two areas within the city with known infestations, reporting the populations we found and gaining the expertise needed to hold similar surveys in our own counties. We also discussed approaches to engaging community members and existing volunteers, such as our Extension Master Gardener Volunteers, to assist in future surveying efforts as new populations are discovered.


Adult spotted lanternfly infest a small tree of heaven
A large adult Spotted Lanternfly population in a heavily infested area along a railway


Spotted lanternfly egg masses dot the limb of an infested tree
Spotted Lanternfly egg masses dot the bark of an Ailanthus (tree of heaven) 


Our study tour provided a multitude of valuable take-aways. Throughout our visit, we had the chance to meet with both Extension and industry experts. This allowed us to gain perspective on the impacts of SLF and to form points of contact, collaborators, and partners that will enhance our future outreach and engagement. We also had ample opportunity to strengthen connections with each other, along with time to develop a timeline for outreach tools and other materials. We left the tour armed with new insights that could only be gained by experiencing infestations firsthand and are now better equipped to handle SLF as its presence increases and impacts grow.


OSU Extension professionals take a group photo with Bartlett arborists overlooking the city of Pittsburgh
From left to right: Rich Vrboncic (Bartlett Tree Experts), Cindy Meyer (Warren Co. SWCD), Carrie Brown (OSU Ext. Fairfield Co.), Carri Jagger (OSU Ext. Morrow Co.), Amy Stone (OSU Ext. Lucas Co.), Amy Kulhanek (OSU Ext. Medina Co.), Ann Chanon (OSU Ext. Lake Co.), Jason Rihn (Bartlett Tree Experts), Andrew Holden (OSU Ext. Ashtabula Co.)