Taking the Best Pest Photo with your Phone

I get a lot of requests to identify specimens from photos. Emailing a photo of a pest sample rather than finding a container, catching it and bringing it into our office can save considerable time for our clients in the community. If you are able to send me a good photo accompanied by some details of the situation, it can save me considerable time too.

A good photo is one preferably in focus, one which includes some identifying characters of the pest. This can be as simple as the overall shape or as detailed as the presence or absence of wings, hairs, pits, segments or clubs on a specific body part. With spider identification, it is helpful to count the number of eyes and note the eye arrangement on the cephalothorax in order to positively identify the family.

Tips on using your camera phone:

  1. Turn off the flash.
  2. Do NOT zoom in. (Let me do that when I get the photo.)
  3. Do not shoot the specimen in the shadow.
  4. Get close, but not out of focus.
  5. Tap your screen to focus on your specimen.
  6. Take bursts or multiple shots of moving specimens. You’ll have more photos to choose from.
  7. Record a short video if necessary.

Tips on taking pictures of insects and arthropods:

  1. Dead bugs are easier to photograph than live, moving ones.
  2. If you want to kill a specimen, put it in the freezer. Don’t smash it.
  3. Try your best to find any type of container before sticking specimens to tape. (Containers include pill containers, food containers, salt shakers, sandwich bags, empty jars.)
  4. Place specimen on contrasting background.
  5. Include something for scale (ruler, “dirty” penny).
  6. It is better to have more pictures than too few.
  7. If you can’t get a picture of the critter, feel free to send a picture of frass (poop), damage, shed skins (exoskeleton), or any other signs of infestation.

Frass between the window and the frame. Could this be damage caused by an insect? Photo by Jody Green, Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County.

Even if the photo isn’t the greatest quality, the information that you can provide can help me help you. Please send me the following information with your photo.

  • What? (evidence, damage, live or dead bugs)
  • Where? (specific location inside the structure)
  • When? (the start and duration of the problem)
  • How? (the number of individual pests you’ve seen)
Specimen submission form

This is the form we ask clients to fill out when they drop a specimen off at the office. The information from this form would also be helpful with photos sent via email.

The first step to solving your pest problems at home is to identify the pest. With good pictures and keen observation, you may be able to identify specimens yourself using  identification keys and field guides from reputable authors (look for websites that end with .edu or .org). For those outside of Lancaster County, Nebraska, I recommend contacting your local Extension office.

Confessions of an Extension Entomologist: I’ve been known to hold my iPhone5S up to the eye piece of our microscope to take a picture of a magnified specimen. It’s not always pretty, but in the spirit of identification and electronic record keeping. I use the tips above to take my own pest pictures, even the ones I collect from my house.

Cat flea magnified

Cat flea magnified by a microscope. Photo by Jody Green, Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County.

Keep calm and respect critters,





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