Submitting Insect Specimens for Identification

HYG-2121
Date: 
10/24/2012
Susan C. Jones, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Entomology, Extension Specialist, Household and Structural Pests
Barbara Bloetscher, Extension Entomology
Devon Rogers, PPDC Entomology Diagnostician

The C. Wayne Ellett Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic (PPDC) at The Ohio State University provides a service in which insects, spiders, and other related arthropods are identified and management strategies recommended. In addition, the PPDC diagnoses turf disorders and plant problems caused by insects, nematodes, disease, or environmental factors. The PPDC, which is sponsored by OSU Extension, utilizes expertise from members of the Departments of Entomology, Plant Pathology, Horticulture and Crop Science, as well as the School of Environment and Natural Resources. The accuracy of any diagnosis or identification depends upon the written information provided, how well the submitted material represents the problem, and the condition in which the specimen arrives. This fact sheet outlines procedures for submitting insect and damage specimens for identification. Information detailing how to submit a plant specimen can be obtained from the PPDC website ppdc.osu.edu, your local county Extension office, or by contacting the PPDC by phone (614-292-5006), fax (614-466-9754), or e-mail (ppdc@cfaes.osu.edu).

Collecting the Insect Sample

Send as many insect specimens as possible. The identification of many insect species relies upon characteristics of the antennae, legs, or wings. If the submitted specimens are missing these parts, a precise identification typically cannot be made. Specimens that are squished are very difficult to accurately identify. Our goal is to provide the best identification service possible, and a high-quality submitted sample helps facilitate accurate identification and analysis.

Please DO NOT send live insects unless they are hand-delivered to the PPDC in a secure container. Live specimens should be placed in sealable containers and put into the freezer for two or three hours to subdue and humanely kill the insects.

Packaging the Sample

The condition of the specimens affects the accuracy and speed of the identification. Specimens typically cannot be identified when they arrive crushed, broken, or moldy, and this will result in a request for additional specimens. DO NOT place dead insects loose in an envelope, because they will be crushed, making identification impossible.

DO NOT ship live insects. A permit from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is required to ship live pests across state lines.

Most insects, with the exception of butterflies and moths, should be submitted in an alcohol-filled vial with a leak-proof lid. Isopropyl rubbing alcohol is most commonly used, but ethanol also is acceptable. Do not use formaldehyde or water. Medicine or vitamin bottles are commonly used. It is a good idea to wrap the lid with tape to prevent spillage. For a small specimen, it may be easier to dip a cotton swab into rubbing alcohol and then touch it to the suspected insect. Place these swabs into a vial or secure container.

Butterflies and moths should be submitted dry because alcohol or any liquid will remove the colored scales on their wings, which makes identification extremely difficult. Carefully place the butterfly or moth between loose layers of tissue or cotton in a sealable plastic container.

Do not stick insects or mites onto tape or send sticky traps unless absolutely necessary, as the insects cannot be peeled off these sticky surfaces without either tearing or losing antennae, legs, and wings. Never place the sample between two layers of tape because the microscope cannot focus through the tape to allow identification, and the insect or mite cannot be removed from the tape without destroying the sample.

If sending an item that is suspected to be damaged by an insect, it is important to send as much of the material as possible so that the diagnostician can look for characteristic signs of insect activity. Insect-damaged items such as wood, dry food, fabric, etc., should be placed in a sealed container. Do not place such items inside a plastic bag, as any insects contained therein could chew through the thin plastic. Do not add water or any extra moisture, as the sample will rot or become moldy in the mail.

Carefully pack the sealed vial or container in a crush-proof mailing tube or sturdy cardboard box. Use packing foam/bubbles or shredded/crushed newspaper to cushion the inner container and keep it from bouncing around inside the mailing tube or box.

Please note: The PPDC is not a medical facility and cannot receive samples containing blood, skin, or human tissue. Please consult with your family doctor to determine which medical office would process such samples.

Provide Written Information and Payment

COMPLETELY fill out a PPDC Specimen Form at ppdc.osu.edu/submit-sample/forms; these forms are also available from your county Extension office. It is very important that you describe exactly where and when the pests were found, how many were present, and the characteristics of any damage. Be sure that your name, address, and phone number (daytime is best) and e-mail address are legible, and write any specific questions that you would like to have answered.

If possible, include a picture of any damage that may have been caused by the insect. Note that the source of plant damage often may not be easily observed or it may be at a remote location. For example, deadening of tree branch ends could be caused by insects boring inside the trunk. Be sure to supply images of the overall tree or plant.

The PPDC charges a fee for specimen identification. In most situations, insect identification or damage diagnosis is currently $20; however, this fee is subject to change. Refer to the PPDC website (ppdc.osu.edu/fees) or contact your county Extension office for current charges. Payment preferably should accompany the sample, or the PPDC will send a bill. Your check should be made payable to The Ohio State University.

Enclose the completed PPDC Specimen Form and your check in a plastic bag to protect it from moisture; then, place the bag inside the mailing box with the insect sample.

Shipping the Sample

Use an overnight mail service, or mail the package early in the week to avoid weekend layovers at the post office. Weekend deliveries are not accepted at the PPDC. Alternatively you can personally deliver samples to the PPDC at the following address:

The C. Wayne Ellett Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic (PPDC)
8995 East Main Street
Plant Health Building #23
Reynoldsburg, Ohio 43068

Ohioline http://ohioline.osu.edu