Environmental, Health and Safety Services

Arthropod Research

  • Refers to research projects involving invertebrate animals known as arthropods (having exoskeletons, segmented bodies and paired, jointed appendages). Insects, spiders/mites and crustaceans are three of the largest arthropod groups.
  • Some species of arthropods are vectors or transmitters of disease to other species, and are often the focus of research efforts.
  • For research involving vector species or non-vector species which are NOT infected or genetically manipulated, and have been collected in the field or purchased commercially, institutional oversight is usually not required.
    • Examples of non-vector species: fruit flies (Drosophila), cockroaches, butterflies/moths (Lepidoptera), beetles (Coleoptera), etc.
  • The Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) oversees research involving vector species infected/ potentially infected with biohazardous agents, or vector species whose infection status is unknown.
    • Protocols for research projects of this type must be submitted to the IBC for review and approval, and for periodic renewal.
    • People must complete IBC-required training before beginning this type of research with arthopods.
    • Examples of vector species:
      • Diptera – mosquitoes, tsetse flies, black flies, sand flies, midges
      • Hemiptera – reduvids (kissing bugs)
      • Anoplura – lice
      • Siphonaptera – fleas
      • Acari – ticks, mites
    • Biohazardous agents carried by vector species include viruses, rickettsia, bacteria, protozoa and helminths that cause disease and may present a public health threat.
    • Researchers must take into account all life-cycle stages (eggs, larvae, nymphs, and adults) when providing arthropod containment. The small size, mobility (especially flying and jumping species), reproductive potential, and the relative longevity and resistance of certain life stages of some vector species often require species-specific containment solutions.
    • Follow the risk assessment process and other guidance found in "Arthropod Containment Guidelines." (see link below)
  • The Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) also oversees research involving genetic manipulation of arthropod vector and non-vector species and/or use of genetically modified arthropods (even if purchased from another lab/collaborator).
    • Protocols for research projects of this type must be submitted to the IBC for review and approval, and for periodic renewal.
    • People must complete IBC-required training before beginning this type of research with arthropods.
  • Use of blood to feed a vector species:
    • Blood used from a human volunteer -- Submit a protocol to the IRB, the entity that oversees research using human subjects/volunteers.
    • Human blood used from a commercial source – No IRB protocol needed.
    • Research animals used for blood feeding – Submit a protocol to the IACUC, the entity that oversees the use and treatment of animals in research.
    See table below for more details:
Research ScopeVT Entity That Gives Approval & Oversees Compliance
Involving vector OR non-vector arthropod species; no genetic modifications; no infection with biohazardous or genetically modified agents.No oversight required
Involving vector species and research animals—animals exposed to vector species for blood feeding and/or for studyIACUC
Involving vector species that are fed with human blood/blood product
  • If human volunteers supply blood to feed arthropods, a protocol must be submitted to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and IBC.
  • If human blood is purchased commercially, an IRB protocol is not needed; register with IBC as a "Special Lab."
  • In either case, lab personnel who handle the human blood that is fed to arthropods are required to take Bloodborne Pathogens training.
Involving vector species OR non-vector species
  • Infected/ potentially infected with biohazardous agents
  • infected with genetically modified biological agents
  • where the vector species itself has been genetically modified
Primary Hazards In Arthropod ResearchSafety Considerations In Arthropod Research
Exposure to vector-borne disease from arthropod bite.Reduce or eliminate the risk to health and safety of the people working with this material, as well as others who could be indirectly exposed by:
  • Using proper containment practices.
  • Using good work practices and appropriate PPE.
Escape of infected or transgenic arthropods from containment. Contain the arthropods by following Arthropod Containment Level criteria, and by adhering to specific work and containment practices as determined by risk assessment for each situation. Examples of these practices include:
  • Use appropriately-sized screen mesh to provide primary containment.
  • Disinfect containers effectively to prevent arthropod survival and escape.
  • Use an effective trapping method in the lab to monitor for escaped arthropods.
  • Manipulate arthropods in a secure glove box, walk-in incubator, screen cubicle, etc.

Arthropod Containment Guidelines

  • See 'Biosafety Levels' in this website's topics list.

Shipping Insects and Mites

  • A USDA permit is required for the importation, interstate movement and environmental release of most live insects and mites that feed upon or infest plants or plant products, including agricultural crops, trees, shrubs, native plants, etc.
  • The movement of genetically modified organisms requires permits from Biotechnology Regulatory Services.
  • The movement of insects, mites and ticks that affect animals or vector animal diseases requires permits from Veterinary Services.
  • The movement of insects, mites and tick that affect man or vector human diseases requires permits from the Centers for Disease Control.

Guidance and Further Information: