How to send a sample or photo to the IDL for identification
The IDL is open on weekdays (Monday to Friday) year-round, except for occasional days when the diagnosticians are away. The lab is closed during Cornell University staff holidays, which include several days for Thanksgiving Break in November, and Winter Break (2 weeks from late December to early January).
The primary Diagnostician is at the lab most weekdays but some routine IDs and questions can be handled at other times. We welcome emailed PHOTOS and mailed-in SAMPLES for identification. Due to Cornell Covid protocols, mail and packages often reach our lab the day after delivery to campus. We apologize for this inconvenience. Please feel free to contact us by email <IDLDiagnosticLab [at] cornell.edu> to check on whether your sample has been received. There are no deliveries to Cornell on weekends, Federal holidays, or Cornell holidays (2 days at Thanksgiving, 6 days December-January for Winter Break).
When we have finished the ID we will email you the results in a Diagnostic Report, along with any Factsheet or additional information. In the occasional case when a sample requires further examination or research to be identified, we will let you know about the delay.
Phone consultations are NOT a service we offer.
For any questions about sample submission or ID results, or to let us know a sample is being sent, please email: IDLDiagnosticLab [at] cornell.edu. Please contact us by email if you have not heard back, after mailing in a sample you think should have arrived already. If you have been given a Tracking Number for your shipment we can find out if it has been delivered or not. Due to new COVID-19 protocols, we have experienced mail delays, so we will be in touch when your submission arrived in the lab.
Follow these step-by-step instructions
A. $25 Sample IDs
If you have an insect or related organism you want identified:
- Collect it using the recommendations in Step 1 below
- Fill out the information on the IDL Fillable Form or write the information on a sheet of paper (see Step 2)
- Step 3: write a check or money order for $25 payable to “Cornell University”
- Package the sample, form or paper with info, and $25 payment, following the directions in Step 4 below (see Step 4 for mailing address)
- If you also have a photo of your sample to email, the $25 fee covers both. We may be able to provide preliminary information before the sample arrives at the lab for examination under the microscope
- If you don’t get an email from IDLDiagnosticLab within a couple days of when the package would have been delivered, please check your Spam or Junk emails, and contact IDLDiagnosticLab [at] cornell.edu to let us know
B. $25 Photo IDs
If you have a photo you would like identified:
- Fill in the information on the IDL Fillable Form (see Step 2 below)
- Email the photo and a PDF copy of the form to IDLDiagnosticLab [at] cornell.edu Please provide your zipcode in the email (this can help with the ID as species vary regionally, and allows us to keep track of pest reports from different areas).
- If the photo is clear enough for us to provide an ID, we will let you know to mail in a check or money order for $25 payable to “Cornell University” to the address in Step 4 below. Or we can provide you with a secure link for paying Cornell University online with your credit or debit card.
Step 1: Collecting the sample
- Samples submitted that are thought to be a parasite or from a human body should be collected by a physician. Due to potential health risks to our diagnosticians, we CANNOT accept bodily fluids or other human debris. We will happily work with your physician to identify an arthropod pest, but submissions of that nature MUST come from the physician. If you have any questions about your sample we are happy to answer them via email at IDLDiagnosticLab [at] cornell.edu
- Collect 1 or several (up to 10) individuals of the similar type, undamaged if possible. Crushed specimens may be identifiable to a general type of insect, but not always to species – but if a specimen is already squashed, include all the fragments as they may help with the ID.
- One sticky trap is considered an individual sample unless otherwise directed – please email ahead on time if you intend on sending traps in.
- For large insects, kill them in a bag or container in the freezer overnight, then gently wrap in a paper towel or tissue to keep them from shaking around, then put into a container or bag.
- To collect tiny insects or mites, gently wipe up with a small piece of slightly-damp paper towel or tissue, and put in a ziplock bag or tight-lidded container.
- UNKNOWN BITING PESTS: When searching for a suspected biting pest, things that are actually seen crawling around may be worth collecting for closer examination. If it is too tiny to be certain it is an insect or mite, and motionless, it is very likely just a bit of lint or debris. Small debris items may appear to ‘jump’ due to static electricity, in a plastic bag or if approached with a finger or piece of tape – this is not the same as a live insect or mite walking around. Even tiny biting mites (bird, fowl, or rat mites) are readily visible crawling on surfaces, with normal eyesight or reading glasses.
Photos of the skin (suspected bites, or rashes or lesions) are generally NOT helpful for an ID, as different people’s skin reacts differently and other things such as allergies can produce similar skin symptoms – so please do not bother sending skin photos.
- If the sample was collected on sticky tape, please do NOT fold it over or put tape or plastic onto the sticky side. For mailing, securely tape the ends or edges of the piece of tape, STICKY SIDE UP, onto the inside of the lid of a plastic container or small box, so that when the container or box is closed, the sticky surface will not touch anything.
- For sticky traps, do not fold over flat and do not cover sticky surface with plastic. Fold the trap into a triangle or box shape so the sticky surfaces don’t touch. Or, attach the edges of a flat trap securely to the inside of a box or container, STICKY SIDE UP, not touching any surface.
- Delicate or soft-bodied insects (aphids, caterpillars, etc.) can be sent in a teaspoonful of alcohol in tight-capped container or ziplock bag.
- Plant samples with insects or mites should be sent in a tightly-closed plastic bag inside a mailing box.
- For bed bugs and carpet beetles, we recommend killing by freezing overnight, before shipment.
Step 2: Fill Out the Submission Form
The same form is used for mailed samples, emailed photos, or both. A printed form can be filled in by hand, or you can type into the form (online, in Adobe Reader, or another pdf editor) and then print or email us a copy.
Either fill in the IDL FORM (click on red box) and save the file to print out or email,
OR, download the IDL Fillable Form and use Adobe Reader (or Preview on a Mac) to fill it in; or print it out and fill in the form by hand,
OR, write on a piece of paper (or SEND IN AN EMAIL): your name, address where sample was found (with zipcode), email address (or a friend or relative’s email, who can pass the ID information along to you), where the sample was collected (indoors, or on what kind of plant, etc.), and the date it was collected.
Step 3: Payment
You can pay for sample or photo IDs online, using a credit or debit card. We will provide you with a secure Cornell University link once the ID is completed.
OR, write a check or money order for $25, payable to “Cornell University”, for each sample or photo (or for a mailed sample & photos of what’s in the sample).
A single sample can include multiple examples of the same kind of insect (or more than 1 photo of the same kind of insect). Or a sample can include multiple items, if your main concern is whether or not they are a particular kind of pest (such as “cockroaches? or carpet beetles?”).
For different kinds of insects, if you are interested in what each kind is, then each would count as a separate $25 sample.
Step 4: Mailing directions
For samples, send with payment and IDL Form. For photo IDs, send payment (IDL Form can be emailed) or submit form by email and payment online. Mailing address:
Insect Diagnostic Lab
2144 Comstock Hall, Entomology
Ithaca NY 14853-2601
Important Packaging Details
- Do NOT send a sample in a flat letter envelope: it will get crushed in the mail and become unidentifiable.
- You can send a sample in a ziplock bag or closed container, packed inside a box for mailing. If the box is large, add a little crushed newspaper or bubble wrap.
- A padded envelope can be used instead of a box, but only if the sample is inside a crush-proof container. Even with the padding, a sample just in a bag inside (without protection) will get damaged during shipment, since heavy catalogs and boxes are piled on top of padded envelopes in the mail bins.
- If the sample is in liquid, drain off all but a spoonful, make sure the lid closes tightly, wrap a paper towel around the container, and put inside a plastic bag.
Important Mailing Details
- Do NOT send by a method that requires a signature – that can delay delivery when no one is in the building mailroom.
- Make sure to use enough postage. Packages arriving without proper postage will be refused delivery and returned to sender.
- If you’re given a tracking number, please email that to us so we can check on delivery. (Note: USPS shows “Delivered” when packages reach the Ithaca Post Office; their truck gets to our building in the afternoon, Monday to Friday only)
For people near Ithaca New York, samples can be dropped off at 2144 Comstock Hall on the Cornell campus during weekday work hours. Cash or check payment can be made to the Entomology Accountant in 2132 Comstock. IDL Forms and drop-off info are posted on the bulletin board outside 2144 Comstock.
NO IN-PERSON DROPOFF AVAILABLE UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE, WHILE CORNELL IS IN REMOTE/ESSENTIAL MODE.
Please note that any package arriving without proper postage will be refused delivery and returned to sender. See below for more mailing instructions.