By Alex DeMetrick

BALTIMORE (WJZ/AP) — Maryland officials are preparing for the likely spring invasion of a leaf-hopping insect that harms crops and recently overran southeastern Pennsylvania.

The Baltimore Sun reported Wednesday the spotted lanternfly appears to have caused more damage in less time than any invasive insect to arrive in the mid-Atlantic region. The spotted, four-winged bug first appeared in the U.S. roughly three years ago when a shipment of stone from Asia arrived in Berks County, Pennsylvania with lanternfly eggs attached. It has damaged crops including grapes, fruit trees and hardwoods.

University of Maryland entomologist Mary Kay Malinowski says residents should become informed about the lanternflies and report sightings.

Malinowski says as of last fall, the insects are within 10 miles of the Maryland border and are expected to be in Maryland this year.

The bugs put Maryland’s agriculture at risk. No animal or other insect eats them.

“When they are disturbed, they’ll flash their wings to let the predator know they’re bad news, that they’re toxic,” Malinowski said. “You don’t want animals eating them. Make sure your pets stay away from them, if you do see them, and you don’t want your kids picking them up.”

Because they frequently lay eggs on cars and outdoor equipment, lanternflies spread by hitching rides. Entomologists expect they’ll begin showing up in Maryland in April.

“If you’re out walking where they are and have a dark shirt or hat, they’ll be attracted to you and land on you,” Malinowski said. “I’ve heard they get into people’s hair. They’re just a mess. They’re just kind of a nightmare.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided $5.5 million to help Pennsylvania researchers study the lanternflies and recently announced another $17.5 million in emergency funding.

Maryland’s Department of Agriculture would like people to report lanternflies.

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