It's been all over social media: There's a claim that spotted lanternflies are toxic to dogs. If ingested, they can cause seizures. If stepped on, they can cause a dog's pads to blister. It doesn't matter if the spotted lanternfly is dead or alive. They're still toxic to dogs.

But how much of this is true?

None of it, apparently.

George Hamilton, the department chair of entomology at Rutgers University, said he checked with colleagues at Penn State University to confirm. They are not aware of any adverse effects that the spotted lanternfly can create with human contact or with pet contact. Right now it is an agricultural and environmental problem.

So why the jump to this conclusion about dogs and the spotted lanternfly? Hamilton said the spotted lanternfly feeds on many plants. But one plant it feeds on is the tree of heaven, which is known to have carcinogens. These have the possibility to create toxic effects.

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Hamilton said the theory is the spotted lanternfly feeds on the tree of heaven, takes in these compounds, and sequesters them in their bodies. So, if a dog eats the bug, it's going to ingest the carcinogens, leading to seizures.

"Right now we're not sure whether that is actually happening, it being concentrated at a level that might be harmful," Hamilton said.

As far as the dog's pads blistering after stepping on a spotted lanternfly, Hamilton said that's a theory that could have come from the blister beetle. They get their name because when someone handles them, they excrete a toxic-based chemical that causes blisters to the person or animal handling them.

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Hamilton said he does not believe people are confusing the spotted lanternfly with the blister beetle. "I think they're just drawing a dotted line from what one species does because it does have this compound in its body, to what another species might do," he said.

While there is no evidence the insect is dangerous to pets, what Hamilton can confirm is that the spotted lanternfly situation in New Jersey is "out of control."

They have been detected in every New Jersey county except Cape May for reasons unknown. While there may be some hitchhikers in the county, there is no established population of the spotted lanternfly in that South Jersey county.

The main threat to agriculture right now has to do with wine grape production. There are problems in Pennsylvania vineyards where the grapevines are weakened due to spotted lanternflies feasting on them. That's alarming because they may not survive the winter, thus, threatening the crop.

If you see a spotted lanternfly, which has gray wings with black spots and red underwings, squash it.

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