The National Identification Service

The National Identification Service (NIS) is the portal through which specimens of insects, arachnids, nematodes and their relatives can be submitted to the taxonomists at the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes (CNC) to be identified. As such, the NIS is one of Canada’s first lines of defense in protecting its environment and biological resources, as the identification and classification of organisms is key to understanding our native biodiversity and threats that may destabilize it.

By law, "where a person becomes aware of the existence of a thing that the person suspects to be a pest in an area where the pest has not previously been known to exist, the person shall immediately notify the Minister (of Agriculture) of the suspected pest and provide the Minister with a specimen of it" (Plant Protection Act, 1990, article 5). The NIS and taxonomists of the CNC support the Minister of Agriculture, the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency (CFIA), and other government departments and agencies responsible for protecting our native fauna and flora from invasive species, ensuring safe imports/exports, and the health, welfare and security of Canadians.

Thousands of specimens collected across the country are submitted to the service each year by growers, private industry, the Canadian public and numerous government agencies. Many of these samples come from plant and animal products such as flowers, fruits and packaging wood, which are brought from overseas and intercepted at our borders. The accurate identification of these insects by our taxonomists is crucial. If the species are deemed a danger to our crops or wilderness areas, then steps must be taken to prevent them from establishing themselves in Canada.

Submission Procedure

NIS Submittal Form: Specimens must be submitted to the NIS accompanied by the NIS request form, which details contact information, submission contents and collection information, as well as project description and relevance. Charges may be applied for identification services.

Shipping Address:

Dr. Owen Lonsdale
Manager, National Identification Service (Entomology)
Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada
K.W. Neatby Building, Central Experimental Farm
960 Carling Ave.
Ottawa, Ontario  K1A 0C6

Preparation: Most specimens can be prepared by the person submitting the specimens. In some cases, however, the NIS manager should be contacted prior to preparation to ensure that they are presented in a manner that preserves key diagnostic characters (for example, critical point drying or maintained in alcohol). The groups that require discussion with the NIS manager prior to preparation include parasitoid Hymenoptera, smaller flies and other such small, fragile groups. For those specimens that can be air dried and prepared by the submitter, we prefer specimens to be properly pinned and labeled whenever possible, as this aids in identification. For proper methods of preparation, please see Collecting, preparing, and preserving insects, mites, and spiders, Insects and Arachnids of Canada Handbook (external PDF).

Identification prior to submission: Lastly, please always attempt to identify the specimen to the lowest taxonomic level possible before submission (for example, family or genus) and always ensure that full collection data are included on specimen labels. This aids scientists during identification and can facilitate a quicker turn-around time. Also use thicker, more durable paper for specimen labels when possible, do not make labels excessively large, and either type or neatly handwrite relevant collection data.

Shipping: During shipping, use brace pins on specimens and/or labels where appropriate; note that a label can become loose and spin on the pin during shipment, contributing to specimen damage. Use appropriate packing material to absorb vibrations. When submitting liquid-preserved specimens to the NIS , please make sure that they are in a suitable preservative in a small, watertight container and wrapped in absorbent materials. Some preservatives are flammable and many types of containers are prone to leakage, especially if they are not properly sealed, so ensure proper care.

Important: If you intend to submit large numbers of specimens (for example, 40 or more), please contact the NIS Manager beforehand. Relevance of the specimens to ongoing projects must be thoroughly justified, and additional time must be provided to allow the NIS Manager an opportunity to discuss the submission with the relevant scientists. Note that NIS identifications are one of many responsibilities expected of CNC staff, including research and curation, and it is the duty of the NIS Manager not to overburden staff if these submissions unduly impact on other activities.

For further information contact:
Owen Lonsdale