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Department of Entomology

Department of Entomology
123 W. Waters Hall
1603 Old Claflin Place
Kansas State University
Manhattan KS 66506-4004

785-532-6154
785-532-6232 fax
entomology@ksu.edu

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Instructions for Submitting Samples

TO WHOM: To submit a sample, complete the appropriate form (scroll down for the forms) and take your sample to your local County Extension Office. They may be able to identify the sample themselves or they can assist you with sending the sample to our diagnostic lab in Manhattan. Addresses of Kansas Extension Offices can be found on the web at Map of K-State Research and Extension Offices by County.

DO KILL. To identify an insect, you should make an effort to capture several without damaging them. However, shipping live insects is not advised. Not only may it be illegal without the proper permits, but live insects might escape or damage themselves during the struggle to escape from the container. Kill the large insects, such as cockroaches, beetles, moths, or butterflies in the freezer for 24 hours, or place small/immature insects (see the selection below under what should go to liquids) directly into a preservative. Exception is an infested plant material. These samples must be well sealed. Insects smashed with a flyswatter or rolled newspaper can seldom be identified.

PRESERVE - DRY or in LIQUIDS. If you killed a specimen by freezing, let it dry briefly before you pack it as the condensed water can initiate a moldy growth.  Then carefully wrap the insect in tissue paper and ship in a crush-proof-container, or mailing tube. Never send dry samples in cotton since the legs and antennae get tangled in the cotton and will easily break. Insects taped to index cards or mailed loose in envelopes arrive in pieces and cannot be identified.

Delicate and immature insects should be preserved and shipped in rubbing alcohol or vinegar. This material is inexpensive and can be purchased at any local grocery store. Do not use  formalin, formaldehyde, or other similar preservatives as these present a handling hazard and may violate shipping regulations. Keep in mind that water is not a preservative and insects can discolor and decompose if shipped in plain water. Use liquid preservative for the following specimens: aphids, caterpillars, maggots (any immature insect), spiders, ticks, mites, lice, fleas, centipedes, millipedes. When in doubt, place it in the liquid. For more detailed information on how to ship preserved samples go to mailing samples.

STICKY TRAPS:  Sticky traps and tapes are accepted in limited quantities as the number of insects trapped can be overwhelming and specimens on tape tend to be in poor condition, making identification more difficult. Your local extension agent or pest control operator may be able to identify a majority of the trapped insects, so you could send only those tapes that contain an insect of identification importance. Very small arthropods, such as mites, can be embedded deeply in the tape glue and cannot be properly identified other than to determine their presence.

SAMPLES OF DAMAGE: Often it is helpful to submit samples of damage along with the insects. When submitting plant samples, wrap the plant material in a dry paper towel or newspaper. Place loosely in a plastic bag and ship in a sturdy box or mailing canister. Never place water or moist towels with such a sample. Submit only representative samples and mail them early in the week to guarantee the sample will arrive by Friday in good condition. Your County Extension Office should be able to supply you with vials and mailing tubes, if it is necessary to mail the sample to the diagnostic laboratory.

MEDICAL SAMPLES: All human ectoparasites should be submitted by qualified personnel such as extension agents, pest control professionals or medical workers to ensure that the parasite has been properly packed and preserved. 

FORMS: These forms should be filled out accurately and thoroughly. It is also very important to indicate where the insect was found. Many times such information helps in making an accurate identification. Specific information regarding the exact location of an insect (e.g. near a drain in the basement) is also very beneficial. It is also helpful to know how many insects are occurring. Additional information on collection sites, insect habits and any other pertinent information is also beneficial when making identifications. Please also mark down the date of the collection.

Forms to accompany the insect samples (you need adobe acrobat to view editable PDFs):

IMAGES (sent to gotbugs@ksu.edu):

Digital images may be used for specimens to be identified. In some cases, pictures of live specimens are preferable. Many caterpillars and soft-bodied insects lose their natural color or become dark when they die, even if placed in a preservative. Because identification manuals use color patterns to help distinguish different species, pictures of live specimens are often better than pictures of dead ones. Active specimens can be slowed down by placing them in a freezer or refrigerator for a short time before taking pictures.

In general, specimens that are less than 5 mm (1/4 inch) are too small to be identified from images using common digital equipment. Use judgment on specimens that are small but larger than 5 mm.

Images are emailed, but they should be accompanied by information that includes location (county), date, client name, circumstances where arthropod was found (crop, building, etc.), agent, etc. – any additional information that would help place the insect in its ecological context.

At least three images should be submitted. For most arthropods an image of the top (dorsal) of the animal is most crucial, and many insects can be identified with this image alone.
Most require other views:

  • For most larvae (caterpillars, beetle larvae) side and bottom (ventral) views are important as well as the head capsule.
  • Beetles should be shown with top, bottom, and head (front) views.
  • Butterflies and moths should have wings spread and top and bottom sides displayed.
  • Spiders should have top (body) and front (head) views with a visible arrangement of their eyes.

If unsure how to photograph a specific insect, contact the insect diagnostician for help.

In addition to pictures of the insect, it is often useful to send images of the damage or habitat where insects were found. These images may be useful even when sending physical samples. In some cases it is best to send digital images of the insect and/or damage and follow up by sending a sample. This allows the diagnostician to make a preliminary response based on digital images and confirm the diagnosis based on the physical sample.

WHAT TO EXPECT:  Once the sample or image arrives at the lab, the diagnostician reviews information provided and examines the specimen using references available in the laboratory, the Kansas State University Museum of Entomological and Prairie Arthropod Research (including arthropod specimens), the university library, and selected Web sites. Arthropods may be identified to order, family, genus, or species level depending on the problem. The specimen and image, if it is clear enough, may be sent to a specialist on that arthropod at another institution. Responses will be transmitted through the online form or by emailed message. One to three days are required to process samples after they arrive at the lab, depending on time of the year and complexity of the problem. Sometimes the diagnostician will need to consult other sources. In case of a delay, the diagnostician will inform the local agent.

CONTROL RECOMMENDATIONS: When control measures are requested along with identification, the insect diagnostic lab will refer the client to an appropriate K-State Research and Extension publication where solutions to many common problems can be found. If there is not a publication that addresses the problem, the diagnostician may be able to suggest a non-chemical or cultural control method. For liability reasons, the diagnostician is unable to provide chemical control recommendations not listed in a K-State publication. Publications, newsletters and insect images are available on the Department of Entomology Web site at www.entomology.k-state.edu/extension.