Identification of insects is at the heart of almost every entomological study, but this is not always recognized. Rather too often a survey is made for one of a variety of reasons (e.g. ranking diversity of particular sites or detecting pest insects), but with scant regard to the eventual need, or even core requirement, to identify the organisms accurately. There are several possible routes to attaining accurate identification, of which the most satisfying may be to find an interested taxonomic expert in the insect group(s) under study.
This person must have time available and be willing to undertake the exercise solely out of interest in the project and the insects collected. If this possibility was ever common- place, it is no longer so because the pool of expertise has diminished and pressures upon remaining taxonomic experts have increased. A more satisfactory solution is to incorporate the identification requirements into each research proposal at the outset of the investigation, including producing a realistic budget for the identification component. Even with such planning, there may be some further problems. There may be:
- logistical constraints that prevent timely identification of mass (speciose) samples (e.g. canopy fogging samples from rainforest, vacuum sampling from grassland), even if the taxonomic skills are available;
- no entomologists who are both available and have the skills required to identify all, or even selected groups, of the insects that are encountered;
- no specialist with knowledge of the insects from the area in which your study takes place — as seen in Chapter 1, entomologists are distributed in an inverse manner to the diversity of insects;
- no specialists able or prepared to study the insects collected because the condition or life-history stage of the specimens prevents ready identification.
There is no single answer to such problems, but certain difficulties can be minimized by early consultation with local experts or with relevant published information, by collecting the appropriate life-history stage, by preserving material correctly, and by making use of vouchered material. It should be possible to advance the identification of specimens using taxonomic publications, such as field guides and keys, which are designed for this purpose.