Critter

September 15, 2021

Melissa sent me a link to an article by John Green for The Hutchinson News.  It seems Kansas State Fair officials judging 4-H entomology entries last week discovered one display included a Spotted Lanternfly.  A specimen of the invasive species was found pinned on a 4-H student entomology display at the state fair.  The student had properly identified it as a spotted lanternfly but was unaware the bug was an invasive species that has prompted quarantines in at least 45 counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to stop its spread.  “We had one entomology issue,” Fair Board member Gregg Hadley, Director for Extension at K-State Research and Extension, advised the rest of the board Friday morning. “It was a dead one, but it was in a critter box.”  That triggered a federal investigation.

When I looked online, I found the Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is a planthopper indigenous to parts of China, India, and Vietnam.  It has spread invasively to Japan, South Korea, and the United States.  Although it has two pairs of wings, it jumps more than it flies.  The critter cannot harm humans or pets, but they cause massive damage to plants and are known to feed on over 70 different types of trees and plants.  The insect deposits sticky honeydew excretions that then grow mold which prevents plants from photosynthesizing and causing the plants to die.  The critter feeds on some 70 different plant species and has spread widely since showing up in Pennsylvania in September 2014.  By 2020 was an invasive species throughout the Delaware River Valley (Eastern US).  It is believed it arrived on cargo from China.  In its native habitat, it is kept in check by natural predators or pathogens.  Neither exist in the US.

I was intrigued by the word critter associated with the entomology display (critter box) and did some research to find out where the term came from.  The Free Dictionary defines crit·ter (krĭt′ər) n. Informal, as, 1. A living creature, 2. A domestic animal, especially a cow, horse, or mule, 3. A person.  A word history was also provided for critter.  It seems many regional dialects considered the word bull (adult male bovine) to be highly taboo.  When speaking in mixed company, people would substitute another word, calling the bull a booman, brute, gentleman cow, or surly.  In the Northeast, critter was a common word used to avoid saying bull, both by itself and in combinations like beef critter and cross critter.  The most common meaning of critter is “a living creature,” whether wild or domestic.  It also can mean “a child” when used as a term of sympathetic endearment, or it can mean “an unfortunate person.”  Critter originates as a dialectal variant of creature, but owing to the pronunciation spelling critter, the term has taken on something of a life of its own as a separate word.

Thoughts:  Residents in quarantine areas for the spotted lanternfly are asked to follow a checklist before moving vehicles or other outdoor items out of the quarantine areas to ensure they aren’t transporting the bug or its eggs.  As an entomology judge Hadley was familiar with the critter and the requirement for reporting it to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.  The USDA will investigate to trace how the insect moved 1,100 miles to Kansas.  “They think it came in on a camper,” Hadley said.  Since the insect was dead, the student was allowed to enter the exhibit.  This critter was able to travel from China to Pennsylvania on a cargo ship and from Pennsylvania to Kansas on a camper.  The advantage of globalization is it allows rapid movement of goods over vast distances.  The disadvantage is it allows rapid movement of invasive species and pathogens over vast distances.  This has been true since the beginning of human interaction and resulted in the demise of Indigenous peoples around the globe during colonialization.  Humans need to constantly monitor the baggage we bring with us.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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