Pest identification key to successful management

A good pest management program starts with the early identification. When pests are correctly identified early, there are more options. MSU Diagnostic Services can identify those pests and help save crops, time and money.

As crops emerge, our focus turns to protecting them from the threat of weeds, diseases and insects. The first step in an integrated pest management program is accurate identification of the pest you are dealing with. Michigan State University Extension provides many resources to help with this task. Visit MSU Extension News for Field Crops and read the weekly Michigan field crop regional reports, or subscribe to the digest and have them sent directly to your e-mail. These digests provide a glimpse into what is happening with pests across the state.

Use this and field history as a gauge when you scout the field. When a problem is found, MSU Diagnostic Services and MSU Extension have resources to help with identification.

To ensure an accurate identification, samples must be prepared in a specific way. Here are three sample types that can be submitted and how to submit them properly.

Plant health and weed analysis

  • To get the best identification results there should be several samples and they should include the entire plant, including roots with the media or soil intact, the stem and foliage. Separate the soil from the foliage so that the two do not touch each other.
  • Collect samples that show the progression of symptoms including healthy, marginally and severely infected, if possible.
  • Digital images of the field can and should be sent in to show the pattern of damage, both zoomed in and entire field shots are the best. The photos can be emailed to the lab at or mailed in with the sample.
  • Submitting good and bad plants is also recommended to show the progression of the symptoms the plant is experiencing.

Insect/arthropod samples

  • Insect samples should be sent in a leak-proof vial of alcohol or vinegar.
  • A sample of the damage caused to the plants should also be sent in along with the insect sample.
  • If the insect is in larval stages, it should be lightly boiled while alive then placed in alcohol or it can be sent in still alive.
  • Moths and butterflies should be frozen for 30 minutes and then shipped in a vial with tissue paper.

Nematode samples

  • Nematode samples, including the soil and roots, should be placed into a plastic – not paper – bag and correctly labeled.
  • Samples should be collected by taking a quart or pint of soil and should not be exposed to high temperatures.

All sample types

  • The container that the sample is submitted in is not important, but it does need to be able to survive the mailing process to the lab; envelopes should not be used.
  • All samples need to be accompanied by a form when they are submitted, which can be found on the Diagnostic Services website.
  • The samples can be sent or delivered to:

Diagnostic Services
Center for Integrated Plant Systems Room 107
578 Wilson Rd., East Lansing, MI 48824-6469

MSU Diagnostic Services can help identify pests, but it is up to you to check your fields and spot pests early in the season to help create the best pest management system for your crops that you can.

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