Boy's entry into state fair triggers federal investigation

So far, the lanternflies haven't been spotted in Canada.

A Kansas boy who entered his unique bug collection took home a prize at the state fair last week, The Washington Post reports.

He also triggered a federal investigation.

One of the creatures on display was a spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) - a striking invasive planthopper that has been devastating plants in several eastern U.S. states.

Lanternflies feed on several crops, including apples, hops, and hardwood trees, excreting waste that supports sooty mold, a fungal growth that kills plants by preventing sunlight from reaching the leaves.

The Kansas bug prompted an investigation because it popped up more than 1,300 km away from the nearest-known lanternflies. One of the judges at the fair recognized the invasive species and reported it to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Washington Post reports.

When questioned by government officials, the boy said he found the dead insect on his patio in May, suggesting it may have died last year, since adult lanternflies typically emerge in July.

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lanternfly GIF

A spotted lanternfly. Stylized graphic created by Cheryl Santa Maria. Photo courtesy: Lawrence Barringer/Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture/Government of Canada

The insects have not been spotted in Canada but authorities are keeping a close eye on migration patterns. In 2018 Canada added it to a regulated pest list in an effort to prevent its introduction in the country.

While they don't fly great distances, lanternflies are expert hitchhikers and can attach themselves to cars and travel great distances.

Officials say the presence of one lanternfly in Kansas doesn't necessarily mean there's an infestation nearby. Should one be identified, crews will work to contain it.

Wade Weber, state leader for the Kansas 4-H program that organized the state fair competition, said the finding is an "extreme example" of the 4-H ethos - sharing information that betters communities.

“It’s the excitement of a kid learning about their world, putting it on display, and sure enough, they discovered something that adults were like, ‘Wow, this is really important for us to be aware of,’” Weber told The Washington Post.

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“He has alerted us to a threat we weren’t aware of, and we’re really thankful.”

The first North American sighting of the spotted lanternfly occurred in Pennsylvania in September 2014, presumably brought to the continent via a shipping container from Asia.