To celebrate National Dog Month and International Dog Day (August 26th), I want to introduce you to the first 2 dogs trained by the USDA to detect the spotted lanternfly - Goose and Kita! This lovable brother and sister duo of black labs have been through an intensive 8 week training program that equips them to detect the scent of the spotted lanternfly and notify their handlers. What a privilege for North Carolina to be the first state to have two dogs with such a unique and valuable skillset! Other states like New York and New Jersey do have dogs with similar training, just not USDA trained at this time.
If you're like me, you may be wondering, what on earth is the spotted lanternfly (SLF) and why do we need canines to find them?! Well, this invasive species is native to China but since 2014 they have been detected on the east coast of the US in several states after being thought to have arrived via a stone shipment from China. Since then, they have been slowly moving further south in the US.
In June of 2022, they were detected in Kernersville, North Carolina for the first time and I met one of the dog's handlers (Jackie Fredieu) when she was in our neighborhood searching for the SLF. As you can see below, their egg mass easily blends in with trees, so they would be incredibly difficult to detect without the keen noses of the canines!
The SLF damages vegetation by feeding on the sap from the trunks, leaves and stems of trees as well as on a wide variety of vines. Once they feed on the vegetation, the leaking sap can lead to the development of sooty mold which will cover the plants and trees and can lead to their demise. Of the 100+ plants they feed on, one of their favorite targets is the Tree of Heaven, but they can also easily destroy grape (and many other types of fruit) vines and also feed on the hop vines, causing problems for vineyards and breweries that depend on these plants for their livelihood.
In the video below, you'll see Goose showing off his skills and finding an egg mass that his handler (Chad Taylor) had hidden in a tree. I loved seeing in person just how talented both of the dogs are and as a dog lover, I definitely enjoyed getting to give them belly rubs as well! They are both such sweet dogs, however it's important to point out they are not pets, as they are kennelled when not on the road working.
Handlers Jackie Fredieu and Chad Taylor focus their response to areas where the SLF has been reported, but also travel during the week and use the dogs to search high risk areas like campgrounds, rest areas, nurseries, etc since the SLF is a remarkably good "hitchhiker" and can lay its eggs on any flat surface (even cars, campers, etc.) Once the dogs detect an area with SLF, a treatment crew is called in to kill the SLF population. They are careful to do it in such a way that does not damage the vegetation, and only eliminates the SLF.
Refer to ncagr.gov/SLF and the helpful information in the flyer below for more details on identifying the SLF. You can aid in the effort to slow the spread of the SLF by reporting any that you see (or any egg masses you notice). To report, call 1-800-206-9333 or email email@example.com. Be sure to say "hi" to Goose and Kita if you see them around town!