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NC State Extension

Submitting Samples of an Unknown Creature

adult wheel bug

A good sample is essential for an accurate diagnosis. Please follow these instructions carefully. The instructions on this page apply to the collection of insects, spiders, other arthropods, and certain invertebrates associated with plants in any setting. They also apply to these same creatures when found outdoors but not necessarily as plant pests.

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To sample arthropods (insects, spiders, mites, and others)

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Note: Live animals (including arthropods) from outside the state of North Carolina are not accepted under any circumstances. Specimens must be killed and preserved before shipping for us to process them.

  • For most arthropods, including cockroaches, termites, bugs, beetles, flies, wasps, ants, maggots, spiders, mites, etc., specimens should be collected and killed in a well-sealed vial or other container that has ≥ 70% ethyl or isopropyl alcohol inside. For shipping purposes the vial/container should be double bagged in plastic zipper bags.
  • Caterpillars, mites, scales, aphids, and thrips can be sent alive on some of the affected foliage/stems, collected as you would a plant specimen. Place the plant material containing the organisms in a plastic bag when collected and ship as for other samples.
  • Butterflies and moths should be submitted dead (killed in the freezer), and packaged lightly in tissue paper in a crush-proof box. Do not put in alcohol.
  • White grubs and other larvae found in the soil can be sent in alive in 1-2 pints of the soil enclosed in a container or plastic bag.
  • When in doubt, put specimens in ≥ 70% alcohol and collect several specimens if possible.
  • Larger, soft-bodied specimens (e.g. caterpillars, grubs, large maggots, other larvae, etc.), unless shipped quickly in alcohol, are best preserved by dropping the specimen in water, just taken off of a boil, for 1-2 minutes before transferring to alcohol. This prevents discoloration and decay.
  • Live and/or dead and dried specimens can be sent as is, but should be packaged securely in a container with a tissue, etc. so the specimen does not move and get damaged during transit. Please do not send dried specimens alone in an envelope as they can be easily destroyed. Do not crush or dismember the specimens if possible.
  • Sending multiple specimens (within reason) is optimal for getting a good diagnosis.

To sample other invertebrates (snails, slugs, worms, etc.)

  • Unlike arthropods, most of which have hard exoskeletons, these invertebrates are soft and can become difficult to ID if preserved as above. If coming from within NC, it is best to send these alive in a container with a moist paper towel, or with some soil and leaf litter. If these are collected from out of state, please contact the entomologist at 919-515-9530 or email

If a photograph of the organism can be taken with clarity and magnification (e.g. microscope camera) from several views/angles, images alone may be sufficient for identification of the organism. Image samples can be submitted free of charge to the PDIC (preferably through the database), although if a follow-up physical sample is required, the sample will incur a standard fee.

Written By

Matt Bertone, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionDr. Matt BertoneDirector, Plant Disease and Insect Clinic Call Dr. Matt E-mail Dr. Matt Entomology & Plant Pathology
NC State Extension, NC State University
Page Last Updated: 3 months ago
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