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BugGuide Photo-Vouchers

We have had several discussions on BugGuide (in the forums and on image comments) about the value of contributors providing specimens of photographed arthropods as "Photo-Vouchers" to experts willing to receive and identify said specimens.

A good discussion of Photo-Vouchering can be found here:

Our previous discussions about this topic have indicated that there is interest in the BugGuide community for pursuing Photo-Vouchers and has resulted in several experts accepting specimens for this purpose. This thread will hopefully serve as a summary of current Photo-Vouchering opportunities, provide a place for discussion of new directions and opportunities, and help to recruit additional specialists willing to accept photo-vouchers for BugGuide.

Preserving specimens for vouchering:
Most athropod specimens should be preserved in alcohol. Isopropyl is satisfactory and easily obtained. Some researchers may prefer ethanol. Some insects should not be preserved in alcohol (such as some Tabanidae and Orthoptera) as the liquid can destory important hairs or bleach the color from the specimen.
Please email the voucher contact for specific instructions on preserving and shipping.

Current BugGuide Photo-Vouchers

Non-insect arthropods
+ Joseph DeSisto - Centipedes
+ Kevin Pfeiffer - Spiders
+ Ken Schneider - Spiders, California focus
+ Blaine Mathison - Ticks
+ Ray Fisher - Velvet mites and relatives (Parasitengona)

+ George Waldren - Mutillidae, Scoliidae, Tiphiidae, Bradynobaenidae
+ Dave Smith - Sawflies (Symphyta), Aulacidae, Evaniidae, Gasteruptiidae, Trigonalidae, Stephanidae
+ Zhiwei Liu - Cynipidae (see Charley's comment below)
+ John Ascher (AMNH) - Bees and wasps (care of Eli Wyman; contact John for details)

+ John Carr - Diptera, mainly Tachinidae, Dolichopodidae, & midges
+ Richard Wilkerson - Culicidae
+ Christian Thompson - Syrphidae
+ Bill Murphy - Sciomyzidae
+ Allen Norrbom - Acalyptrates, esp. Tephritidae (see notes below about preservation)

+ Peter Messer - Carabidae
+ Tim Loh - Dytiscidae, Hydrophilidae, other aquatic beetles; northwestern Carabidae
+ Adam Brunke - Staphylinidae (Staphylininae & Tachyporinae)
+ Joshua Basham - Buprestidae
+ Blaine Mathison - Elateridae, Throscidae
+ Brad Barnd - Melolonthinae (Phyllophaga, Serica, Diplotaxis, etc.), Ptilodactyla sp., miscellaneous Coleoptera/Diptera/Hymenoptera
+ Guy Hanley - any Histeridae & Scarabaeidae, especially those found in dung & animal burrows; Glaresis
+ Andreas Herrmann - Dermestidae
+ Michael Thomas - Cerambycidae & misc. LBB (little brown beetles) from the Cucujoidea and Tenebrionoidea
+ Gareth Powell - Nitidulidae, especially Carpophilus

Other groups
+Mark Fox - Fleas and cockroaches

+California - CDFA - contact is Steve Gaimari

Additionally, there is the Insect and Mite Identification Service run by the USDA-ARS, which may provide additional opportunities to have some difficult taxa identified.

Some topics for discussion:

- Are there others who photo-voucher that I've missed? I know there are some informal arrangements within the BugGuide community, but I've only included the ones that explicitly have expressed interest on their profile page.

- For those experts willing to help, are you interested in receiving vouchers for the long-term or perhaps just a short-term project?

- What other taxa are the BugGuide community interested in adding?

- Guidelines for photo-vouchering? This seems obvious to me (properly mounting and preserving specimens, eventual deposition of specimens into a research collection, making photo-vouchers available to other entomologists for scientific research) but maybe there is more?

It is of course a difficult task to find experts willing to undertake this kind of project. Many professional taxonomists are busy with their own work and will be unable to commit time.

I will keep this thread updated, listing both ongoing projects as well as shorter duration projects that will hopefully come to fruition. Anyone who is interested in starting a photo-voucher project, please post to this thread or contact me directly and I'll add your name and interest to the list.

Would anybody mind
adding me to the beetle list for Scolytinae?

I tried...
but it looks like Brad has it locked. Brad hasn't been active here for a while (at least not with beetles) so not sure if he's seen it.

Sadly, you have to take Bob Carlson out of this list. He will be missed.

He definitely will be missed.

I will take Diptera specimens. Most interested in Tachinidae, Dolichopodidae, and midges.

Some of the people on the list are now inactive (Terry Wheeler and Bob Carlson at least).

I'll add you. And thanks for the reminder.

the case against collecting beetles into alcohol
collecting spmns into alcohol is necessary for soft-bodied taxa, and suitable for many hard-bodied taxa, but it's less than ideal for collecting beetles. alcohol tends to cause muscle tissue to contract in beetles which causes the elytra to split open:

to avoid split elytra, beetles should be collected via Ethyl Acetate which is available from BioQuip or possibly from nearby universities.

I'll certainly try Ethyl Acetate for initial killing to see if it helps. Ethanol 95% (aka Everclear), though, at least preserves flexibility, and is much less volatile and toxic, so is much easier to work with and use for long-term storage. King and Porter 2004(1) is an excellent reference on use of alcohols for this. The elytra still often split, but being flexible means you can support them in a closed position until dry. I place the beetle upside down after pinning on a Plastazote foam disk and position the legs, head, antennae, and elytra with pins until dry. Use of a dissection microscope and minuten pins are best for small beetles. The pin heads can be pushed into pre-punched holes in the foam, and a small disk makes a convenient operating table since it's easy to rotate.

The elytral separation in absolute ethanol has been my observation as well.
Ethyl acetate may also be available by the gallon at Home Depot under the name "M.E.K. Substitute". MEK is methyl ethyl ketone, a substitute for the more volatile acetone. For those who want to avoid acetone and MEK, the MEK Substitute is essentially pure ethyl acetate- check out the MSDS.
I have heard that for DNA analysis, ethyl alcohol will rapidly disable the enzyme that destroys DNA at cell-death. Ethyl acetate will not do this. So if you hope to use the voucher specimen for DNA, maybe you will have to stick to ethanol. I don't know this for sure.

I have no problems with elytral spreading...
in click beetles arriving in alcohol.

That would be great, and quite surprising, if highly concentrated "ethyl acetate" is readily available at Home Depot under name "MEK Substitute". I'll check it out.

Are we saying "acetone" is another killing fluid that would not promote elytra separation? I've been told by researchers that long term exposure to 95% ethyl alcohol is acceptable for preserving DNA.

I can't help wondering if pinning too close to elytral suture was at least partially responsible for elytra separation in some of the photos posted by Mike. Most but not all of my specimens pinned from 70% ethyl alcohol or 70% isopropyl alcohol end up with elytra close together. In a few cases the elytra separation occurs a day or so later as the specimen is drying out. I'm guessing that such separations are statistical occurrences influenced by a few other variables. If one is concerned about elytra separation, I suppose one could try diluting the killing alcohol by adding a fair amount of 5% vinegar.

"M.E.K. substitute (=ethyl acetate) no longer available"
is what I learned in conversation with a tech rep of company that produced it in past. So where in USA is the best buy for personal purchase (likely with postal mailing to private residence) of a quart or so of pure ethyl acetate? I won't be surprised if someone says that the product is illegal via personal postal mailing. So how about mailing it to an academic institution that one is affiliated with?

Bioquip sells. There are rules for ground transport, volume limits, labeling, and packaging. I'm sure they do it legally.

I was hoping to avoid "BioQuip" for this one
out of concern for anticipated high cost for small volume. But thanks to your link I now see $10.25 for one quart which is not too bad. We'll see what the shipping charge is.

Not sure
I do not see a high percentage of "elytral-splitting" in specimens I have pinned or pointed from alcohol. In fact, it is uncommon (easily less than 20%) in my experience. Perhaps it is more common in certain taxa or influenced by curation technique?

In any case, it seems to be a cosmetic issue and doesn't affect the specimen otherwise.

My understanding is that ethyl acetate is very bad for DNA extraction, although this is still debated. I would advise against using EA if you plan on doing molecular work.

I am happy to receive and identify centipede vouchers -- many can't be identified even to genus by a photograph alone unfortunately. And I am always looking for specimens from places I can't travel myself. I'm very early in my career so obtaining specimens, even common things, is a priority for me right now. They will end up in the UConn biological collection once I've finished with them.

Added you to the list. Good to have your expertise available.

Gareth Powell, a graduate student at Purdue, will be working on the Nearctic Carpophilus and is interested in vouchers of that genus, as well as other Nitidulidae, preferably in EthOH to allow for molecular data.

Contact info for Richard L. Westcott?
He commented on a submission of mine and asked that I collect a specimen and send it to him, but I can find no contact information for him?

Josh Bashum has been our go-to-guy for bups for awhile now. He would know how to contact Richard, I would assume.

It'd be great to send
my Dermestids to Andreas Herrmann, but he doesn't have an email on his profile. Does anyone know how to contact him? Thanks!

This has worked
We have exchanged emails a number of times:


remove the asterisks.

Diptera photo-vouchering
I'm willing to accept photo-vouchers of Chloropidae and selected other acalyptrate Diptera. Details and contact info in my profile.

Thanks Terry
Added you to the list.

Is there someone out there who can get this specimen to species?

i know Dr Lim visits BG sometimes...
but she's in Korea; try asking Dennis Haines --he might handle it himself, or at least refer you to an expert

A reminder...
With Spring here, just wanted to remind everyone of the opportunities below for photo-voucher submissions.

We would appreciate bee and wasp vouchers
in the AMNH, especially from places and seasons underrepresented in our and other major collections (e.g., any samples from states such as AR and OK would be particularly welcome).

They must be legally obtained and we would need a signed specimen transfer form confirming this. They should be properly mounted and labeled.

Please contact me regarding further details if you're interested.

Can still send to AMNH care of Eli Wyman
Or to my Singapore address if you can sort out the mailing

Thanks for the update John.
Will add a note.

Thanks John.
I'll add you to the list.

I've finally found someone who studies cynipids, and he is interested in receiving specimens. Zhiwei Liu says:

To make your collected specimens most valuable, I recommend that you include the following for each sample (a single specimen, or a series of specimens from the same galls):

1. Location information. Please include GPS coordinates if possible.
2. Host plant species
3. Date of collection of galls, and date of emergence
4. Pictures of galls will help species identification and would be very much appreciated. You will be asked for permission prior to being considered for inclusion in any publication, and will be properly acknowledged whenever they are used.

[I had specifically asked him about examining reared specimens. I'll double check and see if he would be interested in specimens not associated with galls.]

working link to his page

Dr. Liu says:

Yes, I am also interested in caught cynipids, and other cynipoids of the families of Ibaliidae and Liopteridae, which are parasitoids of woodborers and are thus reared from wood. I guess your contributors may not always be able to ID them to this level. So I will take them all and forward specimens of Figitidae to Matt Buffington while taking care of the rest.

I am very pleased to realize that there is such a big group of people interested in cynipids! Thanks for contacting me!

Thanks Charley. Will the galls themselves be worth saving and sending as well?

Certain galls get hopelessly moldy in the process of rearing, but if that doesn't happen, they're definitely worth keeping with the specimens.

Mutillidae, Scoliidae, Tiphiidae, Bradynobaenidae
George Waldren has offered to photo-voucher specimens of Mutillidae, Scoliidae, Tiphiidae, Bradynobaenidae.

I had forgotten to add this, but Martin Hauser had contacted me awhile back suggesting that folks in California could submit vouchers to the CDFA collection. The contact would be Steve Gaimari.

ticks (Ixodidae, Argasidae)
I am willing to voucher-ID ticks as well. This will also be a good opportunity for us to build a tick collection here at work. We've started covering arthropods in our morphology workshops at the CDC, and it would be a nice way to bank specimens for teaching purposes.

If there is a tick specialist that needs the specimens for revisionary studies, I gladly defer to the specimens to him/her.

thks Blaine
added you to the list

If I collected some of these super-tiny ptiliids (0.35-0.4 mm)

does anyone have a suggestion of who I could send them to for ID? Also, would I put them in alcohol, or do people somehow point-mount these things?

Ptiliidae: Ptiliinae: Nanosellini: Nanosella sp.

Need to examine the spermatheca to verify species level identification. I'm currently revising the nanosellines following my worldwide genus level revision published in 1999.

Ptiliids are best stored in alcohol, especially the little nanosellines.


Dr. Richard Wilkerson, Research Entomologist at the Walter Reed Biosystematics Unit, is willing to accept mosquito vouchers for our site. He would like submitters to follow the same guidelines given by Allen Norrbom for Tephritidae (see post below).

Dr. F. Christian Thompson (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History) is willing to accept vouchers of Syrphidae from the BugGuide community.

He says: "There is one HIGH PRIORITY item for myself and my organization, that is, supporting the Encyclopedia of Life (EoL). So, any vouchers, which are linked to images or other information useful to the EoL, are of the greatest importance to us. Hence, we desire to archive those vouchers, etc."

Acalyptrate Flies
From Dr. Allen Norrbom:

"I am responsible for much of the USNM acalyptrate collection, and I’d be happy to accept voucher material so long as it is properly labeled [minimally, COUNTRY: State: County, Locality, Lat & Long coordinates [if available], date, collector] and in good condition. For donations there is some paperwork that the Smithsonian would send that the donor would need to sign; it is not too complicated unless the specimens came from protected areas, in which case the museum needs a copy of the collecting permit. Specimens can also be submitted via the SEL identification service (see

For the Tephritoidea (particularly the Tephritidae), I would prefer to receive specimens in good quality ethanol (75% - 95%) that could also be used for DNA research. It it is easy for the collector to get a few specimens, that would be preferable to single individuals. It is best to keep samples for DNA analysis in a freezer or refrigerator until they are shipped. I can provide vials, mailing instructions, etc. For other acalyptrate families, I would prefer that the specimens are pinned."

Fleas and Roaches
John Carlson and I have teamed up in the past to ID some obscure roach and flea specimens, which I've curated and kept. I'm sure we can manage to do the same for future unknowns in those taxa.

We will also happily accept any Mantophasmatodea vouchers. :)

Thanks Mark
I've added you to the list.

Anyone willing to voucher flies?
We've got 9 experts accepting different beetle families, but not much going on with one of our largest orders, Diptera. Personally I concentrate my efforts on families where experts identify most things to species either from the pictures of voucher specimens. Some of the fly families are huge like Muscids, Tachinids and Syrphids where we've got tons of species that are too difficult to identify from photos. These families are too much for any one expert, but if a dipterist would accept specimens from a small family, subfamily or genera that would be a tremendous help.
Don't get me wrong, the dipterists are currently doing a great job identifying what they can, but pictures often don't show the details needed for an ID.

I'll ask around (there were some previous suggestions that I'll follow up on).

Many Hymenopteran taxa would also benefit from vouchering as well.

Take a look at the comment by Bill Murphy under this picture.

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