RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – It may appear harmless at first sight, but a spotted insect with red, white and black coloring could pose a serious threat to North Carolina’s wine and grape industries.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said they have confirmed the first established presence of the invasive spotted lanternfly in the state. 

Their initial surveys indicate the insect is living within a five mile radius in Forsyth County near Interstate 40 in Kernersville extending to the Guilford County line. Survey efforts are ongoing. 

“We have been actively looking for this pest for years and had ramped up surveillance when it was detected last year near the North Carolina-Virginia line,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.

Troxler said members of the Plant Industry Division and the N.C. Forest Service are moving quickly to eradicate pests.

North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

The public is also asked to be on the lookout for it. Treatments are planned this week before mated females begin laying eggs.

Researchers at North Carolina State University used a computer simulation tool to predict the timing of the spread of the spotted lanternfly. They found it could reach California wine country by 2027. California produces more than 80 percent of the state’s wine.

They said the invasive insect can damage or destroy crops like grapes, apples, almonds, walnuts, cherries, hops, and peaches, as well as certain trees. Researches say it kills plants by directly feeding on them. They also damage plants by leaving behind a residue that helps mold grow.

“This is a big concern for grape growers; it could lead to billions of dollars of losses in the agricultural sector,” said the study’s lead author Chris Jones, research scholar with the NC State Center for Geospatial Analytics. 

NCDA&CS increased their outreach and surveying, particularly to the state’s most vulnerable wine producing regions, when the lanternfly was detected near the Virginia-North Carolina border. 

The pest was first identified in Pennsylvania in 2014.  

If you see a suspect spotted lanternfly in North Carolina, you are asked to submit a picture through the online reporting tool at this link.