TRENTON — An insect that is known to kill crops it infests has been spotted in at least two counties, and authorities are hoping a quarantine will help stop the bug from spreading further.

The Spotted Lanternfly was first spotted in Pennsylvania almost four years ago, and now the New Jersey Department of Agriculture is keeping an eye on a few sightings on this side of the Delaware River. The quarantine put in place is designed to keep the bugs from spreading outside of Warren and Mercer counties, where the fly has been seen so far.

"Once we find it we have to (determine) how bad the infestation is," Joe Zoltowski of the Department of Agriculture said.

Zoltowski said surveys are being done in Warren, Mercer and Hunterdon, but those efforts could expand if the insect is found other places. People who live in the area are encouraged to check their vehicles before they travel to ensure the bug doesn't hitchhike to a place where the infestation has not yet reached. Likewise, businesses are being asked to check their equipment and vehicles before leaving the quarantine area to ensure they are not spreading the bug.

In this context, "quarantine" is being used to define an area of the state that is being closely monitored to ensure the bugs don't spread. The goal of the quarantine is both to make residents and businesses in the designated area more aware of the insect, and also to ensure that anyone going from the three counties to the rest of the state do their best to make sure the bugs don't go with them — but it doesn't restrict anyone's movement.

The Department of Agriculture is aware of sightings of the bug around the state, but the question of just how wide the infestation is has yet to be established.

"The ones that we have have been spread from Pennsylvania on the leading edge," Zoltowski said. "We don't have heavy populations like they're seeing in their state. We're fortunate in that respect."

Just because infestation hasn't grown doesn't mean it will, and Zoltowski said the farm crops could be a target of the insect across the state. He said it could affect everything from small fruits and vegetables to large farms and crops.

"It can impact every agricultural trade and commodity we have in the state. That's why we don't want it to get out of hand," he said. "The more we look who knows how much we find. Hopefully we don't find a lot."

He said covering so much area for such a small bug is similar to finding a needle in a haystack, which is what makes the effort hard no matter how many resources they put into the effort.

Anyone who spots the fly is encouraged to take a picture and email it to slf-plantindustry@ag.nj.gov. People can also call the state's hotline at 1-833-223-2840. The Department of Agriculture has also created a checklist for people to use to ensure they are doing their part to not spread the insect beyond the quarantine area.

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