A Kansas student's display at the state fair earned him a blue ribbon—and spurred an investigation by state and federal authorities. The 4-H participant's insect collection included a spotted lanternfly, an invasive species that poses a major risk to agriculture in eastern states, the Washington Post reports. The student had correctly labeled the insect but wasn't aware it was an invasive species. One of the entomology contest judges recognized the insect and informed the US Department of Agriculture. The nearest known spotted lanternfly infestation is more than 800 miles away from the boy's home in northwest Kansas. He told officials he found the dead insect on his porch in May.
Officials are trying to determine how the insect got to Kansas and whether it has established itself in the state, USA Today reports. They suspect it may be a hitchhiker that came to the state on an RV. The insect excretes a substance when it feeds that can damage or kill trees, vines, and crops. Dozens of counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are under quarantine orders that limit the transport of materials that could harbor the spotted lanternfly or its eggs.
Wade Weber, leader of the state 4-H program, tells the Post that the boy's discovery demonstrates how the program helps communities by sharing knowledge. "He has alerted us to a threat we weren’t aware of, and we’re really thankful," Weber says. (In Pennsylvania, officials say the bug should be squashed on sight.)