Utah Pests News Fall 2007

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Submitting an Insect  Sample to the UPPDL?  Here's How


In June 2007 I began working for the Utah Plant Pest Diagnostic Laboratory (UPPDL) as the arthropod diagnostician. My main function is to identify arthropod specimens submitted by Extension, home owners/renters, farmers, corporations, etc., and lend advice on available management options. Other roles I will serve as the arthropod diagnostician are: participating in invasive/exotic pest surveys through the Cooperative Agriculture Pest Survey program, entering survey data into the National Agricultural Pest Information System and Integrated Survey Information System databases, outreach, and training Extension agents in basic insect identification skills using our new Leica microscopes. I will also begin revising USU Extension fact sheets and creating new ones.

As a taxonomist and diagnostician serving all of Utah, I identify a huge diversity of arthropods. Given this, it is difficult to know everything about all insects, arachnids, etc. Therefore, it is very difficult for me to help clients when I get an unrepresentative or improperly preserved arthropod sample. When trying to arrive at the proper identification it is vital I have all the necessary body parts intact. While I can usually identify arthropods with just a few parts, I can provide the most accurate conclusion with a whole specimen, which is imperative when making insecticide recommendations based on that identification. So to help me, and ultimately the citizens of Utah, I have provided a few guidelines below. While most agents already submit great samples, informing non-Extension clients of the protocol is a secondary objective of this article. Our main concern is short-term specimen preservation for transport to the UPPDL, which I will make as simple a task as possible.

Guidelines for Submitting a Sample:

1. Collect a whole, intact sample.

Why? The identification of many arthropods depends on very minute characters, such as the difference in the number of tarsal segments between the front, middle, and hind legs, or the number of segments on an antenna. Missing two front or two middle legs or both antennae, for example, can lessen the accuracy of identification.

2. Collect 5 or more samples.

Why? When I receive samples, some require pinning so that I can maneuver them into the correct positions to look at specific identifying characters. If I happen to miss-pin a sole sample, it could ruin critical characters, lessening the accuracy of identification. I realize that multiple samples cannot always be collected—do your best.

3. Place hard- and soft-bodied arthropods in 70-80% ethyl alcohol solution in an appropriately sized, leak-proof vial/container with lid.

Why? Samples that are shipped dry usually disintegrate in the shipping process and render the specimens useless.

4. Put larvae, especially caterpillars, in *KAAD solution.

Why? Strong alcohol solutions can shrivel soft-bodied larvae and distort or remove external coloration. *KAAD solution is a specially formulated chemical cocktail that keeps larvae from "shrinking," and also helps preserve the original color of soft-bodied adult arthropods and larvae. If you can not afford the KAAD solution, then a 70% ethanol solution can substitute.

5. Completely fill out the proper identification request form. (See below for location of the new UPPDL submission forms.)

Why? Adding your name and address to the form will help me learn the names of all the agents or submitters. Giving descriptions of host or area where an insect was collected greatly helps in identification, as many arthropods prefer to feed on one particular plant species.

If there are some items mentioned above that you do not have (like KAAD, ethyl alcohol, vials and lids, collecting nets and kill jars), consider ordering them online at www.bioquip.com. It is fairly inexpensive to obtain all of the preservation vials, lids, fluids, and other collecting equipment needed to provide a high quality sample to the UPPDL, or for your own collections.

Since starting at the UPPDL, I have received numerous old arthropod submission forms with samples. We would like every Extension agent to gather all of those old forms, place them in the blue recycling bin, and then print off copies of our new arthropod submission form (and plant disease form) from our Web site. Both of these forms can be found by clicking here.  In addition to the new forms, more detailed instructions for submitting both arthropods and plant diseases can be found there (utahpests.usu.edu/uppdl/htm/forms).

I look forward to meeting all of Utah’s Extension agents and helping solve even the most complex arthropod mysteries. By working together to submit quality samples complete with the new submission form, properly and completely filled out, we can provide our clients with the most accurate diagnoses and treatments possible. From here on out I will put down my ruler, step off my soapbox, and get back to identifying bugs. Thank you in advance for helping us streamline our sample submission protocol and making our services that much better.

-Ryan Davis, Arthropod Diagnostician