Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids, and Nematodes

Description of this image follows.

Two of the many thousands of trays of specimens in the Canadian National Collection of Insects.

The Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes (CNC) of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is one of the five largest collections of its kind in the world. It contains about 18 million specimens and holds at least 150,634 described species. The Collection is housed at the Ottawa Research and Development Centre in the K.W. Neatby Building on the historic Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa, Ontario.

The CNC is an active centre of scientific research and an invaluable national resource. It serves Canadian scientists who investigate problems in the fields of agriculture, biodiversity, genetics, biological control and other various forms of integrated pest management, and it is part of an international network for other researchers, educators and policy-makers. An increasingly important function of the Collection is to support science that will protect Canada's biodiversity, including reducing the billions of dollars lost annually to invasive species in agriculture, forestry, northern wilderness areas and other native habitats.


The Collection primarily is used to identify:

  • unknown species and develop control measures to reduce the flow of invasive alien species into Canada
  • new pests of concern. The Emerald Ash Borer and the Asian Longhorn Beetle are examples of recent high profile pests where the objective is to control their spread and minimize damage to Canada's natural forestry resources in forestry
  • potential indicators of environmental health and climate change
  • insect vectors that carry diseases such as West Nile Virus and Lyme Disease

Additionally it is employed to:

  • document changes in species and the environment over time for both native and introduced fauna;
  • forecast the spread of invasive species
  • develop pest control methods, including integrated pest management
  • provide support for legislative obligations and international agreements such as:
    • Plant Protection Act
    • Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species (CITES)
    • Species at Risk Act
  • contribute to, and support the publication of information on biodiversity resources. Recent examples include:
    • Canada and its Insect Fauna
    • Butterflies of Canada
    • Insects of the Yukon
    • Manual of Nearctic Diptera
  • answer relevant questions from a diverse clientele relating to insects, arachnids and nematodes


The CNC also plays a crucial role in preserving Canada's native insect fauna. The work involves:

  • describing or cataloguing insect species for the first time
  • documenting species distributions over time and space
  • maintaining data associated with insect specimens to provide information on species' geographic distribution, historic occurrence and basic biology. The specimens and data are fundamental to verifying the identity of insect species and making conservation status decisions at regional, national and global levels.
  • supporting the work and decisions on whether or not to designate an organism as a "Wildlife Species at Risk" by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). A significant proportion of the evaluation data available for insect species is often based on information derived from CNC specimens.

Insect systematics research, such as that carried out at the CNC, provides the foundation upon which many conservation decisions depend.

Major Divisions of the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes

The CNC is divided into 8 curatorial units to facilitate daily operations and management.

The following units and curators should be contacted regarding loans or any other inquiries:

  • Acari (mites, ticks): Frédéric Beaulieu, Marla Schwarzfeld
  • Coleoptera (beetles): Patrice Bouchard, Adam Brunke, Douglas Hume
  • Diptera (flies): Jeff Cumming, James O'Hara, Jeff Skevington
  • Hemiptera (cicadas, plant bugs, plant hoppers, aphids): Bryan Brunet, Joel Kits
  • Hymenoptera (sawflies, wasps, ants, bees): Andrew Bennett, Sophie Cardinal, Jose Fernández-Triana
  • Lepidoptera (butterflies, moths): Chris Schmidt, Jean-François Landry
  • Miscellaneous Insect Orders: Owen Lonsdale
  • Nematoda (roundworms): Qing Yu

Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes loan policy

Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes policy on destructive sampling of specimens

Interesting facts on the Collection


Over 50% of the specimens in the CNC originate from Canada.

  • The Collection also houses specimens from all over the planet, many of which are the only known representatives of entire species.


Some of the species in the CNC are preserved fossils dating back 75 million years, from the age of the dinosaurs.

  • Many of these fossils are part of the CNC's extensive Canadian amber collection, gathered from sites in Medicine Hat, Alberta, and Cedar Lake, Manitoba.

Future work

44,100 named species of insects and related arthropods are known to occur in Canada.

  • It is estimated that almost the same number of species are yet to be discovered. These include species not yet catalogued in the scientific literature and species still entirely unknown to science. Scientists at the CNC, who are world experts in their field, are currently working to differentiate, describe and name these species, as well as produce the resources by which others can learn about and identify them for themselves.

Primary types

Almost 18,000 specimens at the CNC are primary types.

  • When a new species is described, a single specimen is designated as the primary type. These types are extremely important, as they become the standard-bearers for that species name and are referred to by scientists for questions regarding the nomenclature and identity of that species.
  • The role of types becomes apparent quite quickly considering that:
    • there are millions of species of insects, arachnids and nematodes,
    • many of these are important to humans,
    • some are accidentally described more than once as different species,
    • almost all of them are very difficult to tell apart

Distinctive Features

Body features are one of the best ways to classify insects and other invertebrates and many of these can be seen with the naked eye.

  • In most cases, however, insects have evolved amazingly intricate reproductive organs that allow for mating only with members of the same species, and minute elaborations on these structures are the best way to distinguish between different groups.
  • Different species have also evolved specific songs and pheromones that the other gender can detect from miles away when looking for a mate.

Deoxyribonucleic acid

When useful morphological features are lacking, or species are much too similar to reliably distinguish using traditional morphological methods, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) can be used to identify certain organisms.

  • Many CNC researchers regularly use deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) to identify species and solve problems related to crop pests or invasive species.

Beneficial Insects

Most insects are beneficial to humans.

  • The majority of specimens housed in the CNC are directly or indirectly helpful or essential to human existence by keeping crop pests in check, or by keeping ecosystems sustainable through plant pollination, decomposition, nutrient cycling and the provision of food for other animals.

Pest insects

One of the best ways to fight insect pests is to let other insects do it for you.

  • Most crop and livestock pests have been introduced accidentally into Canada from other parts of the World. They create problems because they don't have the biological checks and balances that normally keep them under control.
  • Pest populations can be kept below damaging thresholds by making conditions more favourable for native predators and parasitoids, or by carefully introducing biological control agents from the pest's area of origin. This approach helps reduce risks associated with chemical control on human health and the environment. CNC taxonomists work with biocontrol specialists in Canada and around the world to develop biological control strategies for crop and animal pests.

Insect Names

Names are the key element in the control of insect pests. An important part of the work done by CNC researchers is to identify pests that attack our crops and livestock.

  • Once the name of that organism is acquired, it can be used to access information such as the organism's native range, natural enemies, pesticide resistance, habitat preference, dietary preferences, life history and behaviour.
  • These data allow for informed decisions on control measures, thereby reducing or even eliminating damage that could be caused to humans and the environment.

Open Data

We continue to assess different formats in which we can share our data online: