Expert insect pest identification resources are available in Oregon
The foundations of a good integrated pest management (IPM) plan are scouting, monitoring and identification — knowing where and when you have pests, and knowing exactly who those pests are.
Scouting and monitoring techniques are straightforward. One can use tools like sticky cards, traps, bait plants, or simply observing plants regularly to find all kinds of critters that might be chewing holes in leaves and sucking the sap out of the stems.
Identifying and knowing exactly what insects have been caught … well, that can be a lot more difficult. Nonetheless, accurate identification of the pest is critical to knowing the types of IPM strategies to choose.
Not all insects are created equally when it comes to what they like to eat, how much damage they can cause, or even which diseases they can spread across a nursery. Knowing the types of insects and even the exact species can provide insight into behavior, host range, and other characteristics that can be used to create a comprehensive IPM plan.
There are tens of thousands of insect species in Oregon, but only a small percentage are considered pests. But let’s be honest: a lot of them look alike, and while there are some common offenders, growers are going to come across others that are totally unfamiliar. They might not have the expertise or the time to guess what these mystery insects might be.
When running into unknown insects, it’s best to utilize the resources available in Oregon for accurate insect identification to help make the right pest management decision. The resources listed below are available for insect pest identification services to all nursery professionals in Oregon.
Oregon State University’s Insect ID Clinic:
The Insect ID Clinic is housed within the Plant Clinic in the Botany and Plant Pathology Department at Oregon State University (OSU). The clinic provides insect, arachnid, and other invertebrate identification for any members of the public or industry. The Insect ID Clinic is led by expert entomologist Bill Gerth, who has been with the clinic for nine years (Figure 1). He also works with OSU’s Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Services to identify aquatic invertebrates.
Requests are handled year-round for nursery workers, farmers, homeowners, and the generally curious. Most inquiries come from Oregon, but they also get requests from Washington and
California (plus the occasional specimen from Ohio — home of a different “OSU”).
Requests for identification can submitted in two ways: photos can be uploaded to the clinic through their website, or physical specimens can also be dropped off by appointment at Cordley Hall on the OSU campus in Corvallis.
In the event that the ID needs to be done to a species level or is not a commonly found pest, a physical specimen could be necessary to make the identification. Turnaround times are usually within a few day,s but can take up to two weeks for diagnostic identifications, especially during the busy summer season. Generally, there is no fee for most requests, but if many specimens are submitted, or services are needed as part of a project, a fee may be charged. For some of the pests identified, they may also be able to offer management advice.
When submitting a sample, be sure to follow the packaging tips on their website to make sure the specimens are shipped safely and in the best possible condition for identification. In addition to invertebrates, the OSU Plant Clinic is also available to diagnose plant diseases.
Oregon State Arthropod Collection:
The Oregon State Arthropod Collection is the largest collection of insects in the Pacific Northwest, with over three million specimens collected over the last 150 years from all over the world (Figures 2 and 3). The museum, overseen by Dr. David Maddison (director) and Dr. Chris Marshall (curator), supports entomological research by providing an extensive reference collection to aid with species identification through comparison and a maintains a historical record of where and when specimens have been collected. This specimen collection is utilized frequently by the entomologists at OSU’s Insect ID Clinic and ODA’s IPPM programs (described below), in addition to researchers worldwide working on insect taxonomy and pest management research.
The Arthropod Collection is normally housed in Cordley Hall on the OSU Campus but is currently at a temporary location at OSU’s Coast Range Building during the multi-year Cordley Hall Remodel project. The museum returns to Cordley Hall next year and expects to reopen to the public in early 2023.
Oregon Department of Agriculture’s IPPM Lab:
The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) Insect Pest Prevention and Management (IPPM) program works to protect Oregon’s agriculture, horticulture, environment, and quality of life from damaging insect pests and enhance or maintain the value of our agricultural and horticultural products.
The program is internationally recognized for expertise in the identification of wood boring insects and has acted as a western Regional Identification Center for woodborers since 2008 to provide identification services to agencies across the nation. In 2020, IPPM transitioned to a National Identification Center for Invertebrates, providing identification services for most types of invertebrates targeted by invasive species surveys.
IPPM works closely with ODA’s Nursery and Christmas Tree program to track critical and invasive pests that affect shipments of agricultural products domestically and internationally. Therefore, the most efficient method for nurseries to get identifications is to work with your nursery inspector (for nurseries that ship or receive material in or out of Oregon).
The IPPM lab provides identification for anyone in the state. Inquiries can be submitted through ODA’s Identify-an-Insect portal on their website (see link above). Turnaround times vary but users can expect at least a follow-up in about 24 hours. Physical specimens can be mailed or dropped off by appointment. There is currently no fee for submissions.
Pacific Northwest handbooks:
The Pacific Northwest (PNW) Handbooks are an incredible source of information about insect, weed, and disease management throughout the region. These guides are reviewed with input from researchers and OSU Extension personnel and published annually. Although they are not designed specifically for pest identification, they can help you to narrow down potential pest species and offer management strategies for key pests in many agricultural industries, including nursery.
OSU Extension offices and publications:
Local OSU Extension agents are always available to help with insect ID questions (as well as any other plant health inquiries). OSU Extension is, in part, a huge network of plant health experts, many of which are trained entomologists or have years of experience fielding inquiries about plant pests and diseases. OSU Extension has also updated some recent ID guides, including the Pocket Guide to Common Natural Enemies of Nursery Crops and Garden Pests in the Pacific Northwest (Publication EC 1613, https://beav.es/Uoq).
Pacific Northwest Insects, Merrill Petersen, published by Seattle Audubon
This book, published in 2018, is a wonderfully comprehensive guide to regional insects, with images of some common and not-so-common invertebrates seen in our region. While not specifically designed to be a pest management tool, it’s an accessible resource and reference tool to aid in identification, with tons of photos and information about insect families, characteristics and habitat.
Planning to submitting a photo for ID?
Follow these tips to help get the best image and make it easy on the identifiers:
Focus: Sharp photos are needed showing the details needed for an accurate ID. If you are having trouble focusing, try to get more light in the image or use the flash.
Get close: Try to get as close as you can while still being in focus. Images where the insect is tiny in the frame might not have enough detail for a good ID.
Slow it down: For live insects, chilling the bug in a fridge or freezer for a little while will slow it down, allowing you to get a better photo. Leaving it in a freezer will kill it slowly, leaving it in good condition (put a paper towel in the container with the insect to keep things dry). Avoid crushing the insect to kill them, as it can damage them and make identification difficult.
Multiple photos: The top and bottom of the insect may be helpful. Submit photos from a few angles if possible.
Both the Insect ID Clinic and ODA have detailed instructions on their websites about how to prepare and send physical specimens. Be sure to read them carefully to learn about the best ways to preserve specimens for shipping.
Chris Hedstrom is the IPM outreach and communications coordinator for the Oregon IPM Center at Oregon State University. He can be contacted at email@example.com.