Before submitting a physical sample to the UW Insect Diagnostic Lab, carefully read all instructions on this page:
The diagnostic process often involves piecing together many different clues. Providing background information with a submitted image or specimen can greatly assist in the diagnostic process. This form can be printed to include background information when submitting a physical sample to the lab.
In many cases, insects can be identified through digital images. However, in other cases, physical specimens must be inspected under a microscope for an accurate identification. Crushed or damaged specimens are very difficult to identify and many specimens are damaged during shipping if not cared for. In general, specimens should be placed into small vial or other container and padded to protect them. Try not to put specimens on tape, as this can make identification difficult. Instructions for shipping specimens vary slightly with the type of specimen:
Hard-bodied insects such as beetles and true bugs can be placed in a small clean vial or box. Put cotton or tissue paper inside the mailing tube with the specimen to increase its chances of arriving intact.
Soft-bodied insects such as aphids, caterpillars and other worms are best preserved in alcohol. Freezing or placing the insects into very hot water will kill specimens. Specimens should then be preserved in alcohol for shipment. Seventy percent ethanol is best, but rubbing alcohol, or clear cocktail alcohol like gin or vodka will work in a pinch.
Adult moths and mosquitoes have scales on the wings that are needed for identification and need to be kept dry and intact. Carefully place these specimens into a vial or tub. Cushion during transit using cotton or tissue.
Medical Samples: Insects and mites associated with human skin are rare and are considered medical specimens. With the exception of ticks, such specimens cannot be directly sent to the UW Insect Diagnostic Lab. Instead, such samples must be directed to a physician or public health specialist for diagnosis. If needed, physicians or other health professionals can contact the IDL for purposes of a professional consultation on the sample.
If you suspect that insects have damaged a plant, collect plants that show a range of symptoms. Including healthy plants with your damaged plant sample can help in detecting subtle symptoms. Keep collected plants as fresh as possible. If possible, collect plants immediately before they are to be mailed or brought into the lab. If there will be a delay, keep the plants cool: you can easily keep plants in your refrigerator prior to shipping. Because the sample may have a plant disease, keep foliage from becoming contaminated with soil. Wash roots gently to remove soil unless the sample is to be tested for nematodes or you are submitting a potted plant. In addition, include as much of the following information as you can:
Type of Plant:
Species and variety (if known), approximate age
Any unusual plant size, color or shape changes; severity of the symptoms
weather patterns just prior to the onset of symptoms, soil type, amount of water plant has received, and the amount of sun/shade that the plant receives
Mention any fertilizers or pesticides that you have used, mention pesticides used by your nearby neighbors, if known
Leaves and flowers:
Press leaves flat between alternate layers of moist (not wet) and dry paper towels. Put leaves and toweling between two pieces of cardboard and put into a plastic bag. Zip or tie the bag closed. Punch several holes in the bag to allow for air movement. Place the wrapped leaves in a box. Use packing material to ensure that the sample won’t shift during shipment.
Cut branches into sections. Place the pieces in a plastic bag and place the wrapped material in a box. Use packing material to ensure that the sample doesn’t shift during shipment.
Place branches in a plastic bag and zip or tie the bag closed. Punch several holes in the bag to allow for air movement. Place the pieces in a plastic bag and place the wrapped material in a box. Use packing material to ensure that the sample doesn’t shift during shipment.
Fleshy fruits and vegetables:
Wrap fruits and vegetables in dry newspaper. Placed wrapped specimens in a plastic bag and tie the bag closed. Punch several holes in the bag to allow air movement.
Specimens can then be shipped to:
Insect Diagnostic Lab
240 Russell Labs
1630 Linden Drive
Madison, WI 53706