There are thousands of insect species in Florida. Most are harmless or even beneficial, but some are pests. It is very important to correctly identify the insect before deciding which control measures to take, or deciding if control is even needed. The primary goal of the Insect Identification Lab is to identify insects promptly so that management recommendations can be made quickly.
Diagnosing the Problem
Often the best place to start in getting help with an insect problem is at your local UF/IFAS Extension office. The UF/IFAS Extension agents and Master Gardeners can advise you on management options for pests that occur on plants or around homes. If they are unfamiliar with your insect, they can help you submit a sample to the Insect Identification Lab in Gainesville. To locate your local UF/IFAS Extension office, check for "Cooperative Extension Service" in the county government section of your phone book (blue section), or see the UF/IFAS Extension "Solutions For Your Life" website at http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/find-your-local-office/.
Collecting a Sample
The quality of the sample affects the quality of the identification. Generally, the more specimens the better. It is usually best to kill and preserve insects before shipping to prevent damage to the specimens. Most insects can be killed in a freezer or by placing them in a vial containing 70% alcohol (ordinary rubbing alcohol). Mites and small insects like ants can be collected using a Q-tip or a small paint brush dipped in alcohol. Most adult insects can be preserved in alcohol, although moths and butterflies are best kept dry. Dry insects are brittle, so carefully pack them in a container with soft tissue to prevent breaking. For plant-feeding mites, it is often best to send a portion of the sample preserved in a vial of alcohol, and also a live sample of the mites and their host plant in a zip lock bag.
Soft-bodied insects, including immature stages, are best preserved in rubbing alcohol. Most can be placed directly into alcohol, but special care is needed for some insects. Caterpillars placed directly into alcohol often turn black, making them more difficult to identify. Such larvae preserve better when first placed in hot water. Boil some water, remove from heat, and drop the live insects into the water for several minutes. Then transfer the insects into alcohol. This is most important for the larvae/caterpillars of moths, butterflies, beetles, and flies.
For many insects, a species identification can only be made from the adult stage. Sending live immatures along with some host plant material will enable specimens to be reared to the adult stage, if necessary. Samples containing plant material and/or live insects will arrive in better condition when mailed early in the week using a carrier that delivers the package in 1–2 days.
Packing and Sending Your Sample
Once you have your sample in a vial, plastic bag, or other small container, place it in a crush-resistant container like a mailing tube or small box for mailing. Use bubble wrap, styrofoam peanuts, or newspaper to pack your sample in the box. Make sure that any vial containing alcohol is closed tightly to prevent spilling. Simply sending dry insects in a flat envelope is the worst way to submit a sample. Even padded envelopes provide little protection unless the insects are first placed inside a sturdy container. If your insects are feeding on plants, enclose some plant material and damage, if possible. Plant material should be wrapped in a dry paper towel, and placed into a plastic bag. This prevents the leaves from getting too dry, while absorbing excess moisture to prevent molding.
If you have an insect that you suspect could be a new exotic or invasive species, take special care when packaging it. Plant material should be double-bagged to prevent escape of any insects. Contact the Insect ID Lab so that we are expecting the package and can deal with it appropriately. It is best to send such packages using priority mail or an overnight carrier.
Fill out the submission form as completely as possible. Write in pencil or permanent ink that will resist smearing in case the form gets wet, or else place the form in a separate zip lock bag. For each sample, enclose an $8.00 check or money order made payable to the University of Florida.
A fillable verion of the form can be found at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/SR/SR02200.pdf.
Service Provided by the Insect ID Lab
The Insect ID Lab strives to provide a species-level identification of the submitted insects. However, depending on the sample, only a genus, family, or order level identification may be possible. Control recommendations are provided upon request. Other arthropods besides insects are also accepted, including mites, ticks, spiders, and millipedes. The University of Florida Insect ID Lab provides this service primarily for Florida residents. If you are not a Florida resident and would like to send a sample, contact the lab prior to sending a specimen. In the event that the lab is willing to receive your sample, only dead arthropod specimens should be sent to the lab from out-of-state.
E-mail is the primary and preferred reporting method for the lab. However, fax, telephone, or regular mail communications can be accommodated upon request.
For more details or for questions about the Insect Identification Service, contact:
UF/IFAS Entomology and Nematology Department
1881 Natural Area Dr.
PO BOX 110620
Gainesville, FL 32611-0620
FAX (352) 392-5660