It Bugs Me – Thinking of the Things That Mess With Our Craft Beverages

It Bugs Me – Thinking of the Things That Mess With Our Craft Beverages

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

As craft beer, wine, and cider fans, there are constant threats to our enjoyment of our hobby – labor shortages that limit tasting room hours, can and bottle shortages, rising costs…… but we continue to support Indiana craft beverages because they’re important small businesses and because you need to patronize artisans in your state.

Well, we’ve got another issue that puts our drinking in danger, and this one has nothing to do with supply chains or the labor force. This time it’s Mother Nature who’s out to ruin our weekend. This threat comes to us from Southeast Asian and China and takes the form of an interesting, but destructive insect.

The Spotted Lanternfly landed in the US in 2012, probably in a shipment of cut stone from Asia. It is native to China, Indiana and Vietnam, but there it has natural predators – not so much here. The adult is about an 1 inch long, grey with black spots and bright red hind wings. The immature nymphs are either black with white spots or red with white spots. It was first seen in the US in Pennsylvania in 2014 and now infests more than half that state. It has spread to at least six eastern states and has started making its way west.

The large image is the adult spotted lanternfly, the inset is the nymph. image credits: WHYY and

The danger from the spotted Lanternfly is two fold; 1) it feeds on hop bines, fruit trees, and grape vines which cause damage to the plants directly, and 2) they produce a sticky exudate called “honeydew” that is left on the plants and is prime habitat for several damaging fungi and can attract additional damaging pests.

The flies pierce the bark of trees and the covering of plants to feed on the sugary fluid in their vascular system (sap). It’s unusually large for a sucking insect, and can consume a lot of the plant’s nutritional fluid. This causes the plants/trees to grow at a slower rate, and in many cases can cause die back of part or all of the plant. They reduce grape crops in vineyards and can kill the vines. Trying to control them with insecticides is expensive and leads to increases in the cost of grapes, hops, and fruits – which in turn leads to higher prices for wine, beer, and cider.

While still rare in Ohio, it has now shown up in our fair state – a lanternfly was spotted in Switzerland County (between Cincinatti and Louisville) in July. This is prime winery/cider country in Indiana, with several vineyards and a couple orchards located in that area. Plus, the largest single hop farm outside of the Pacific northwest is just north of there in central Indiana.

The lanternfly has a tendency to spread quickly. When they were introduced into South Korea in 2004, it took them only three years to be found in all parts of the country (about double the size of Pennsylvania). This makes even a single sighting in Indiana a cause for alarm.

The spread of the lanternfly since 2014. image credit: Cornell University

The insect lays eggs in large masses in late summer and early fall. It’s hard to identify the eggs of the insect (look like mud dawbs), so it is hard to make sure trucks and rail cars are free of them when traveling west. Many scientists are concerned about what happens if the lanternfly gets to the west coast with all of those hop fields and vineyards, but I’m worried about it right here in Indiana.

Ryan Hammer from Crazy Horse Hops in Knightstown hasn’t found any lanternflies in their 110 acres of hops yet, but he indicates that the agricultural community here is taking them seriously. He said, “Even though we haven’t seen one yet, we’ve received multiple bulletins telling us to be on the lookout for them and what to do if we do find one in the hop fields.”

Right now, scientists are looking to pathogenic fungi to control lanternfly spread as well as a couple of parasitic insects that target lanternflies, but much more work is going to need to be done before the spread is controlled. If you see a lanternfly – report it to the Indiana State Department of Agriculture right away. Document it with a photograph and then stomp the hell out of it.

banner image credit: Maryland Department of Agriculture

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