A young contestant’s proud entry to the Kansas State Fair was unsuccessful when a judge saw the submitted specimen in the boy’s display box – and it sparked a federal investigation.
The object of the show was a dead spotted lantern that the boy had discovered in his home – an invasive moth-like insect that caused massive damage to plants in the eastern states of the United States, but which is didn’t think he had reached Kansas.
The boy won an award at the fair and correctly identified the insect, but the creature itself has been flagged for attention by the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. . The agency will now investigate how the invasive species got to Kansas, the Hutchinson News reported.
Since arriving in Pennsylvania, likely via a sea container from Asia, spotted lanterns have ravaged the northeastern United States in recent years.
The pests feed on trees and fruits and excrete so-called “honey” waste that promotes fungal growth – a behavior that threatens to cause devastating damage to plants, vines and agricultural products as it prevents photosynthesis.
The insect’s sudden appearance so far to the west immediately set off alarm bells – and its novelty helped the Kansas contender win a blue ribbon. He correctly identified his specimen as a spotted lantern, although he was unaware that it was invasive or rare in the state.
The boy, who lives in Thomas County in northwest Kansas, discovered the lantern fly on his patio in May.
But he was “worn and dried out,” which could mean he died last year, Erin Otto of the Inspection Service told The Washington Post.
Lanterns don’t fly very far but can be carried long distances by unsuspecting vehicles.
“They are very good hitchhikers,” George Hamilton, director of the entomology department at Rutgers University, told USA Today. “Most people don’t even know they have it until the adult form comes out.”
In addition to reporting any sightings, authorities have not mince words about what Americans should do in the midst of a spotted lantern invasion.
“Kill him!” the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture says on its website. “Crush it, crush it … just get rid of it.”