How to take a photo for (successful) invertebrate identification

Since March we have helped growers and advisers with over one hundred identifications; that’s a 65% increase in requests compared to this time last year!

Helping growers and advisers identify agricultural invertebrates is core to the PestFacts south-eastern service.

The most successful way for us to identify invertebrates is by sending in a sample, although we understand that this is not always the quickest or most convenient path.

That’s where smartphones or cameras can help, and we do welcome identification requests through photos.

But often our success in providing you with an identification is highly dependent on the quality of photos that we receive.

Help us to help you by adopting our top 5 tips on taking photos for invertebrate identification.

1. Focus

First and foremost, photos need to be clear.

Blurred, fuzzy, or grainy invertebrate photos are more often than not, too difficult to identify.

Also ensure that it is the invertebrate that is most in focus, and not the plant or your hand or the soil.

An clear photo of a false wireworm larva taken with a smartphone. Photo by Julia Severi, Cesar Australia

2. More is more

Identifying an invertebrate from just one angle/photo is not ideal, particularly if they are obscured by soil or plants.

Take several photos from various angles such as top down, side view and/or front on, where applicable.

Also take photos of several individuals to account for variation in the population.

3. Invest in a macro lens

A smartphone macro lens is a small additional lens that you can clip on over your smartphone camera.

We highly recommend purchasing one as it allows your phone to take images much closer to an invertebrate without it going blurry.

They can be purchased for as little as $5 online.

They are particularly good for smaller invertebrates like aphids and mites, but they can also be used on other types such as caterpillars, moths and beetles.

Note that they can take just a little bit of practice to get used to. If you have shaky hands it can help to rest your elbows on a support to take a clearer photo.

A small cabbage centre grub larva taken on a smart phone with a macro lens. Photo by Michael Harris

4. Think micro

You may be taking a photo of a relatively large invertebrate such as a caterpillar or beetle, but often we still have to look at microscopic features.

Small features such as hairs, raised spots, segmentation, head form and mouthparts, antennae and legs, all provide key information about the invertebrate.

To help us see the finer details, take some close-up photos of your invertebrate in sections (e.g. thirds).

Images taken too far away are likely to be difficult for us identify as they are become pixelated when we zoom in on areas.

5. Cool it

Put your insects on ice if necessary.

Some invertebrates, such as mites, can move around incredibly fast, which makes taking a good photo tricky.

If you can’t snap a clear shot of an invertebrate because they won’t sit still, collect a sample in a container and put it in the fridge for 10 – 15 minutes.

This will temporarily make them sluggish.

If all else fails?

If you aren’t sure if you have taken enough photos, or of the right angle or features, contact us and we can provide guidance and tips.

There will be some circumstances where photos aren’t sufficient for an identification e.g. some invertebrates at a very young life stage.

Just in case, we recommend being prepared to send us a sample by keeping a small container handy in your car.

Cover image: Photo by Cesar Australia

What is Pestfacts south-eastern?

PestFacts south-eastern keeps growers and advisers informed about invertebrate pests and beneficials in broadacre crops and pastures during the winter-cropping season in Victoria and southern New South Wales.


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Since 2019 PestFacts south-eastern has been running through IPMforGrains: Best Practice Insect Pest Management, a project delivered by the National Pest Information Network (Cesar Australia, DPIRD, QDAF, NSW DPI, and SARDI). This project aims to provide grain growers and advisors with information on invertebrate grain pest occurrence and equip industry with the knowledge needed to implement integrated pest management practices. This initiative is a GRDC investment and includes in-kind contributions from all project partner organisations.

The online PestFacts south-eastern collection also includes a selection of articles published between 2015 – 2018 when the service was run through a previous GRDC investment, The National Pest Information Service.

PestFacts south-eastern is supported by