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Spotted lanternfly confirmed in Kentucky for the first time

An adult spotted lanternfly seen in the wild.
Magi Kern | Unsplash
An adult spotted lanternfly seen in the wild.

The first sighting of the invasive spotted lanternfly was confirmed in northern Kentucky, according to University of Kentucky Entomologist Jonathan Larson.

A Gallatin County resident snapped a photo of the odd-looking insect in early October and submitted it through the University of Kentucky’s invasive species hotline. The report worked its way through the chain of command and by mid-October. The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed adult spotted lanternflies and their eggs have made their way to the commonwealth, Larson said.

“It's a big deal, because this is one of our more serious invasive species,” he said. “They don't invade people's homes like brown marmorated stink bug does in the winter, but they're just really annoying.”

The spotted lanternfly is an invasive species known for its distinctive mottled wings, swarming behavior and sweet, sap-filled poop. They infest common trees, spread mold and were first confirmed in the U.S. in 2014. They’ve since spread to at least 15 states, including Kentucky.

Gallatin County is located along the Ohio River. It also happens to be just across the river from Switzerland County, Indiana, where researchers identified that state’s first population of spotted lanternflies in 2021. Larson said it’s not yet clear how the species made its way across the border.

“It's possible this is kind of like the periphery of that infestation is just now crossing the river,” he said. “It could have been an introduction as well, something that came across a bridge into that county and got unleashed.”

Spotted lanternflies feed on sap from more than 70 different species of plants including an array of street trees and specialty crops like maples, apple, walnut, pine and stone fruit trees. They also enjoy what’s called “tree of heaven” another invasive species that often appears in disturbed habitats along the side of highways and railroad tracks.

“They're not going to attack some of our major commodities here, like corn or soybeans or wheat. But they do get some of those more specialty crops. And they love a street tree,” Larson said.

Adult lanternflies grow to be more than an inch long and can appear in swarms on branches. Using their proboscis to stab into the plant, they suck out sap, stressing plants, causing foliage to wilt and branches to die back. They also leave behind “honeydew,” a euphemism for the sappy fecal material they excrete that encourages the growth of black, sooty mold.

Nymphs mature into adults in August and September and will live through November, Larson said. The eggs however, will overwinter and begin to hatch next year.

Larson cautioned Kentuckians to be on the lookout for the bugs and their eggs, which are typically laid in masses of 30 to 40 that can appear tan or khaki in coloration. The insects are considered “hitchhiking” pests and might lay their eggs in the wheel well of a car or on firewood.

He said people passing through Gallatin County and Cincinnati should check their vehicles and freight for flies or eggs, and destroy them if found.

“Cincinnati, that's the other sort of trouble hotspot that we're worried about. The Cincinnati population [of lanternflies] is supposedly building,” he said.

Residents can report sightings through the University of Kentucky Agricultural Pest Survey.

The office of the state entomologist, the state forester and other groups are now surveying Gallatin County for the insects, Larson said.

Ryan Van Velzer is Louisville Public Media's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at