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September 17, 2019

USDA scientists import wasps from China to battle the spotted lanternfly invasion

The pests' presence isn't waning, so researchers are examining every possible route to try and control the spread

Science Environment
Spotted lanternflies wasps china 69News WFMZ-TV/YouTube

Scientists and farmers alike have warned that the spotted lanternfly is actively detrimental to Pennsylvania's ecosystems. The insect feeds on, and eventually destroys, trees.

The spotted lanternfly presence in Eastern Pennsylvania has seemingly reached a new level this summer, with hourly sightings of the insects around the Philadelphia area, including right in Center City.

The invasive pest, scientists and farmers alike have warned, is actively detrimental to the area's ecosystems because it feeds on, and destroys, trees. The state of Pennsylvania has put big money, and manpower, towards trying to contain the insects' spread.

Now, a response almost reminiscent of a science fiction movie is being considered by the federal government: importing wasps from China to combat the spotted lanternflies head-on.

The primary problems with fighting the spread of spotted lanternflies in Pennsylvania, and its neighboring states, is that the insect doesn't have natural predators in the United States the way it does in its native Asia. Thus, the insects have been able to thrive, and spread, relatively unabated.

In China, this isn't the case. A species of tiny wasps are known to lay eggs inside baby spotted lanternflies, which kills them. According to NPR's All Things Considered, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has already brought some of these wasps to the United States to test the viability of fighting one bug with another bug.

From NPR:

"In China, the lanternfly has natural enemies that hold it in check. They are tiny wasps, so small you barely see them.

"Scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, working with colleagues from China, have brought two of these wasps to the U.S. under tight security. The wasps are under quarantine in a couple of USDA labs.

"One of them, the Beneficial Insects Introduction Research Unit, is in Newark, Del., on the edge of the University of Delaware campus."

The actual testing of the wasps' ability to curb lanternflies in Pennsylvania and, surrounding states, is still years off, according to NPR. Scientists are still studying what would happen after introducing these wasps into an entirely new ecosystem: Would they only attack the lanternflies, or would they begin to attack native North American insects as well.

This isn't the first time the idea of importing the lanternfly's enemy has been floated. Just last month, the Washington Post reported government scientists were interested in the parasitic wasps.

Another, less dramatic route to curbing spotted lanternflies popped up earlier this year, when scientists discovered fungi present in Berks County that could potentially "decimate" the insects.

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