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Insect Identification: Experts and Guides to ID That Bug You Found

arthropod trio

Need to identify an insect or related arthropod? Expert entomologists can help. And they’d tell you that here we have (left to right) a common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens), a Cupido comyntas butterfly (also known as the eastern tailed-blue), and a brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa). (Photo credits, left to right: David Cappaert; Ward Upham, Kansas State University; Ansel Oommen, all via Bugwood.org)

So, you want to know what that bug is. Maybe it’s eating your garden. Maybe it snuck into your house. Or maybe you’re outside and just found something fascinating and you want to learn more about it.

If you’re like a lot of people, you probably think asking the Entomological Society of America (ESA) is the perfect place to start. But here’s a little secret: While ESA’s members are all entomologists, the people behind the scenes at ESA headquarters in Annapolis, Maryland, are not. If you send ESA an email or tag us on Twitter or Facebook with an insect identification question, you’ll get a meeting planner or journal publisher or certification manager or (ahem) blog editor on the other end. Simply put, we are not the insect identifiers you seek.

But wait! The good news, of course, is that here at ESA we know the experts—nearly 7,000 entomologists who belong to the world’s largest membership society for insect science. And we can point you to the best resources that our members have built for learning about and identifying insects and related arthropods.

Check out the list below for a variety of resources for insect identification. (And for arachnid and spider identification, too!)

And, for our members and other experts out there, if you have other reliable insect ID resources you’d recommend, please comment or email us at pubs@entsoc.org. We’ll keep adding to this list in the future.

First, though, an important note:

Did Something Bite or Sting You?

If you’re concerned about an insect or related arthropod that you believe has stung or bitten you or has otherwise presented you with a health concern, please contact a medical professional. If it’s an emergency, dial 9-1-1. (Any of the insect experts below will tell you the same, of course.)

Now, on to the insect identification resource list:

Extension Programs

If you don’t know about Cooperative Extension, you’re missing out on one of the great unsung public services in the United States. For more than 100 years, Land Grant Universities in the U.S., as part of the requirements for their federal funding, have operated and continue to operate public-outreach programs known as “cooperative extension.” As the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture explains, “extension provides non-formal education and learning activities to people throughout the country—to farmers and other residents of rural communities as well as to people living in urban areas. It emphasizes taking knowledge gained through research and education and bringing it directly to the people to create positive changes.”

And entomology is a key component of most cooperative extension programs. Such programs operate in every state, and there is probably a local county office near you. They’re a great resource for insect identification for growers, landscapers, and gardeners—and especially for truly local expertise.

To find your local cooperative extension office and contact info (and put your tax dollars to work), try any of the following:

Social Media

As in so many other realms, social media has connected people for sharing knowledge about insects in ways never before possible. For a quick identification of an insect or related arthropod, especially when you’re on the go, these social media groups and outlets are a great place to turn:

Websites and Blogs

Similarly, the internet in general has become a wealth of accessible entomology. (Many cooperative extension programs host excellent, knowledge-rich websites themselves.) For insect identification questions, the websites below can be useful places to start.

Other Insect Specimen-Identification Services

In some cases, government agencies provide testing and identification services for specimens of insects and related arthropods. Below are two resources from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. You can also inquire with your local health department about such services in your area.

Do You Need Pest Management Services?

Some interactions with insects go beyond mere curiosity. If you’re dealing with an infestation in your home, business, or property, try these resources for finding an expert pest management professional near you:


We hope you find these resources useful! If you have any suggestions for additional resources to add to our list, or any other comments or feedback, let us know at pubs@entsoc.org.

And last but not least: If your insect identification quest has sparked your interest in entomology, take a moment to subscribe to Entomology Today, or check out the infographic below learn a little more about entomology.

What Can an Entomologist Do For You?

To download this infographic and others from the Entomological Society of America, see ESA Science Policy Position Statements and Factsheets.

Page last updated: July 30, 2018

5 Comments »

  1. You can add The Bees in Your Backyard FB page to the social media list. They will ID bee pictures they receive (to their best of their ability; it can be difficult to ID from just a photo sometimes and may only be possible to the Genus)

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