STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (CBS) – Penn State University has been awarded a $7.3 million grant to help advance their research on the invasive spotted lanternfly. The grant, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, will support a four-year initiative aimed at combating the pest.

Researchers hope to learn more about the spotted lanternfly’s basic biology, ecology and behavior. The research will help develop control tactics that will help reduce the damage in areas where the spotted lanternfly has been established.

The grant will be complemented by more than $5 million from growers and landowners who agreed to participate in this work, many of whom are currently working with researchers on spotted lanternfly.

“I am extremely grateful to the USDA for this funding as well as the growers and landowners who pledged to allow us use of their farms for this project,” said project lead Julie Urban, associate professor of entomology in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “Our partnerships with them and other impacted stakeholders are key to arriving at strategies for sustainable, long-term management of this pest.”

The spotted lanternfly, which is native to Asia, is now in 14 Pennsylvania counties and has been reported in surrounding states, including New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia and Maryland.

The spotted lanternfly feeds on sap, weakening plants and leaving behind a sugary excrement called honeydew, which promotes the growth of sooty mold. The mold harms the plant, attracts other insects and creates a mess.

The bug threatens Pennsylvania’s grape, tree fruit, hardwood and nursery industries, which collectively are worth about $18 billion to the state’s economy.

To learn more about the spotted lanternfly and how to report if you see one, click here.

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