Over the years I’ve been asked to identify many insects and while most customers save the critters in a baggy or jar till the next time I come out some go so far as to put the sample on ice and hope the wife doesn’t find it before I do. Others leave the bugs on the floor just how they found them I guess so as not to disturb the forensic process of the crime scene. By far the most challenging way I receive bugs to look at is always through the mail. I’m not exactly sure what kinds of equipment the letters go through as they are sorted but I’m sure one of the machines is a masher/flattener or maybe some big hairy guy with a hammer. It never fails that when I open the envelope the bug falls out in about 20 pieces & I have no idea of how to even start reassembling the insect puzzle.
One such critter I was mailed was from California and there were only a few distinguishable parts. Using the brief description given to me on the bug juice smeared letter I somehow put it together that this person was suffering from a cone nose bug infestation. The trick for me is in the description of where, when, what and how and then I look for the body parts that may give me the best clue. In this instance the sender had bite marks every morning ‘that hurt’ somewhat and they lived in an older log cabin in the woods. From that I decided to look for mouth parts and began to rule out insects that didn’t fit. In the end my id was confirmed and the person was able to take positive steps to stop getting bit by this blood sucking bug.
Recently the mailman brought me another mystery, this one was from a customer who sent the bug taped to a post card and just a brief note and hardly any details. (you get that a lot in my line of work) The masher/flattener did it’s job as usual but the tape kept all the goo together quite nicely. At first look there was nothing at all that you could even make out and I was sure that it would be impossible to separate anything identifiable from the tape. Was this a roach or stored product pest? The service records didn’t show any problems from our last visit but since this customer is about as far out in the 5 county region I serve I was hoping to avoid a service call and perhaps solve the problem without going out. As luck would have it I was able to pull the tape away and reveal all I needed to see. The wings of a Drain fly are very recognizable because they are covered with hair and when the fly is at rest the wings fold to a triangle shape. There were no other salvageable parts but that happens so many times. I called the customer and was able to ask the right questions to confirm what I had found out. I then told him how to clean his drains of the gelatinous slime that grows just below the drain cover and that would destroy where these flies were being produced and the adults would soon thereafter disappear. Well, that was a week ago and today he called and said the problem was solved. A win win.
Identifying bugs has always been enjoyable to me and the harder the better. I’ll admit there are a few that I could not get and at times I rely on others to confirm what I suspect. I’ve used whatsthatbug.com which I find to be a great resource and other friends I’ve made in the web world. One feature that is gaining popularity on pestcemetery is the ‘Ask the Bug Doctor’ tab. It’s a simple page where you can describe your bug, upload a picture and wait for your answer. The information can be confidential but I use some pictures for articles and I find that I really learn a lot. I’ve had a lady on the 17th floor of a high rise with cigarette beetles, letters from Canada, Australia and many places in the world. The descriptions really open my eyes to things I’ve never imagined possible and of course some things mentioned throw me way off so I with a few back and forth e-mails we narrow it down and solve some problems.
Now I’d love to get as many requests as the whatsthatbug staff because that would mean
my site has really hit its mark but I’ll be thankful for now your great questions, descriptions and pictures and yes even your snail mail filled with goo, body parts and tape.