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North Carolina researchers have a warning for California: Bugs are coming for your wine grapes

Spotted lanternflies are an invasive species native to China that suck the sap out of plants and crops — most notably grapes and almonds.
A spotted lanternfly sits on a tree in Kutztown, Pa., on Sept. 19, 2019.
A spotted lanternfly sits on a tree in Kutztown, Pa., on Sept. 19, 2019.Matt Rourke / AP file

There appears to be an incoming threat to Californian grapevines: an inch-long, polka-dotted insect called the spotted lanternfly.

In a study published Wednesday in the journal Communications Biology, North Carolina State University researchers used simulation tools to track how far the invasive spotted lanternfly could spread across the U.S. with no mitigation efforts.

Without any intervention, the spotted lanternfly could spread to California as soon as 2027 — potentially killing crops in the wine region of the Golden State, according to the study. And if there continues to be an absence of preventative measures, the spotted lanternfly could be found across almost the entire country by 2037.

The spotted lanternfly, also known as Lycorma delicatula, is an invasive species native to China that sucks the sap out of plants and crops — most notably of grapes and almonds. As spotted lanternflies eat, they excrete a residue called honeydew that can attract flies and other insects and can grow mold.

Spotted lanternflies were first discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014 and were later spotted in more than a dozen states.

The analysis comes at a time when many states are attempting to curb the spread of invasive species like the spotted lanternfly.

Chris Jones, the study's lead author and a scholar with the North Carolina State University Center for Geospatial Analytics, said in a news release Wednesday that he hoped the findings would help state and federal officials implement measures to protect crops like grapes.

"We hope this helps pest managers prepare," Jones said. "If they can start early surveillance, or start treating as soon as the spotted lanternfly arrives, it could slow the spread to other areas."

If people see spotted lanternflies, they are advised to kill the insect and alert their sightings to their local department of natural resources or equivalent.