How To Do Insect Identification

Why bother with insect identification?  A bug is a bug, isn’t it?  Not exactly.  Because of international trade and travel, insects hitch lifts to conquer new territories.  They arrive in luggage, clothes, cargo containers or the holds of ships and airplanes.  Invasive species can have a devastating effect on the new environment.  The Japanese beetle, for instance, is not a pest in Japan, but is a pest where it has taken hold in North America.

Get An Accurate Description

The best way you can help yourself and your insect identifying allies is to get the most detailed description of the bug that you can.  If the bug dies on you, keep the body - but don’t kill the bug.  You can scoop it up in a large jar and make notes about what it looks like and then release it.  If you can get a magnifying lens up to the glass, that will help you see minute details.

Taking a photo is the next best way to get an accurate description for insect identification.  It will show important details such as how many legs it has, what color it is, what patterns, its overall body shape, and whether you can see eyes, antennae or hairs on the legs.   You can even note any strange features such as circular pads on the ends of the feet, wings hidden under an outer shell, or a very long tongue.

Contact A College

Write a polite letter or email to the biology professor at your local college or university.   If you are still in school, bring your description to the attention of your school's biology teacher.  If you are an adult and your local area is surrounded with institutions of higher learning, check and see whether any places have a department of entomology (the study of bugs).  If you live in the United States, you can also contact the Entomological Society of America and have them find a bug professor for you.

Contact the Smithsonian

One of the largest collections of live and dead insects is at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.  Remember in the movie "The Silence of the Lambs" when Jodie Foster took a bug cocoon found in a murder victim to those two nutty bug experts using live bugs to play chess?  That was the Smithsonian.

The Smithsonian is used to receiving and processing a huge amount of requests from the general public.  If you don't want to travel all the way to Washington, then you can contact the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History's Department of Entomology.


Share this article!

Follow us!

Find more helpful articles: