IMPORTANT: 2023 Summer Season Update
I am out of the office with family-related leave until further notice. For general insect diagnostics, Wisconsin residents are welcome to submit digital and physical samples and I will respond as soon as I am able to.
For general entomology or pest management questions, consider visiting the Resources tab in the menu to view available insect factsheets or contact your local Extension office for assistance.
—PJ Liesch, Director of the UW Insect Diagnostic Lab
Before submitting a physical sample to the UW Insect Diagnostic Lab, carefully read all instructions on this page:
Non-Wisconsin Residents (Click to Expand)
Most states have insect identification services available. Physical specimens from out-of-state cannot be shipped to the UW Insect Diagnostic Lab, and must be handled within your own state through your local Extension office or a university entomology department. The UW Insect Diagnostic Lab may be able to assist with electronic submissions (digital images) from out of state, but you are strongly encouraged to contact your local Extension office or university first.
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 (or may not be identifiable) and specimens are routinely damaged during shipping if not protected. In general, specimens should be placed into small vial or other hard-bodied 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 generally hold up well. Dry specimens 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 (80 proof or higher) will work in a pinch. Denatured alcohol (ethanol) can usually be found in the paint section at hardware stores.
To preserve specimens, soak them overnight in alcohol. Due to restrictions regarding the mailing of liquids, pour off the excess alcohol prior to mailing and place a cotton ball in with the specimens to wick up any residual alcohol. Enough ethanol should remain in the specimens to preserve them for short periods of time during transit. Soft-bodied insects not preserved in alcohol can decompose and become unidentifiable in a matter of days!
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 medical professional 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 insects have damaged a plant: (Click to expand)
If you suspect that insects have damaged a plant, collect plants (or plant materials) that show a range of symptoms. Including “healthy” plants with your damaged plant sample can help in detecting subtle symptoms. Keep collected plants samples 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 slightly damp (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 or paper towels. 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
1630 Linden Drive
240 Russell Labs
Madison, WI 53706