Kansas boy’s insect entry at state fair wins prize – and triggers federal inquiry

·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP</span>
Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP

A young contestant’s proud entry at the Kansas state fair caused a flap when a judge saw the specimen submitted in the boy’s exhibition box – and it prompted a federal investigation.

The show item was a dead spotted lanternfly the boy had discovered at his home – an invasive moth-like bug that has been causing massive damage to plants in US eastern states but had not previously been thought to have reached Kansas.

The boy won a prize at the fair and correctly identified the insect but the creature itself was 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 made it to Kansas, the Hutchinson News reported.

Since arriving in Pennsylvania, probably via a shipping container from Asia, spotted lanternflies have ravaged the US north-east in recent years.

The pests feed on trees and fruits and excrete waste called “honeydew” that promotes fungal growth – behavior that threatens devastating damage to plants, vineyards and agricultural produce as it prevents photosynthesis.

The insect’s sudden appearance so far west immediately set off alarm bells – and its novelty helped the Kansas competitor win a blue ribbon. He correctly identified his specimen as a spotted lanternfly, though he didn’t know it was invasive or rare in the state.

The boy, who lives in north-west Kansas’s ​​Thomas county, discovered the lanternfly on his patio in May.

But it was “worn and desiccated”, which could mean it died last year, Erin Otto of the inspection service told the Washington Post.

Lanternflies don’t fly very far but can be carried long distances via unsuspecting vehicles.

“They’re very good hitchhikers,” George Hamilton, department chair of entomology at Rutgers University, told USA Today. “Most people don’t even know they’ve got them until the adult form comes out.”

Besides reporting any sightings, officials haven’t minced words about what Americans should do in the midst of a spotted lanternfly invasion.

“Kill it!” the Pennsylvania department of agriculture says on its website. “Squash it, smash it … just get rid of it.”

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