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COURTESY OF SPOTTEDLATTERNFLY.COM A native to China, the spotted lanternfly has spread to Northeast Pennsylvania, with sightings in Schuylkill, Carbon and Monroe counties last year.

The spotted lanternfly is not here, but it’s close.

The state Department of Agriculture has identified the invasive insect in counties south and east of Luzerne County.

Last year, Schuylkill, Carbon and Monroe counties were among the areas added to a quarantine zone that now includes 13 counties.

The state and federal governments are investing millions of dollars to better understand a pest that could threaten billions of dollars of agriculture, including orchards, vineyards and the state’s hardwood timber industry. A major investment came in February, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $17.5 million in emergency funding to stop the spread of the insect.

The insect is native to China and was identified for the first time in the United States in 2014 in eastern Berks County.

It has spread since then. The closest sighting to Northeast Pennsylvania have come in the southern regions of Schuylkill, Carbon and Monroe counties last year.

The adult insect is about an inch long. Its front wings are gray and mostly covered with black spots, and the wingtips have a pattern of black lines on them. Back wings have patches of red and black with a white band. Its legs and head are black and its body is yellow with broad black bands.

“Because it’s a new pest, we still don’t know a lot about it,” said Vincent Cotrone, an urban forester with Penn State Cooperative Extension.

Some of the questions researchers hope to better understand include: Are there any native predators that will eat the insect? What control measures work best? Will entomologists find it on some particular species of plant? What sorts of insecticides are most effective and safe for the crops they’re used on? How far do they move?

“For a lot of people, including myself, it’s frustrating. We want answers but must gather lots of data before we understand how best to manage and reduce the population,” said Heather Leach, a Penn State Extension associate.

As researchers move toward a better understanding, the state is taking measures to help mitigate the spread of the insect.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture began a permitting system for businesses that move materials into and out of the quarantine zone. It also has a phone number and email address people can contact to report sighting of the insect. Sightings outside the quarantine zone will prompt responses from the department to verify if the insect is spreading.

One thing people can do to help is to be aware of what the egg masses look like - newly laid egg masses have a grey mud-like covering; older egg masses appear as rows of 30 to 50 brownish seed-like deposits - and carefully inspect any items they are taking out of the quarantine area, such as lawn furniture or antiques that have been stored outside.

Scientists studying the issue should have a better idea later this year of how bad the infestation will be, more information about how it is spreading and how to manage it, Leach said.