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Insect handling

Recommendations of the HMS-committee (The Committee for Health, Environment and Safety) at the Department of Biology, Lund University concerning insect handling and insect allergies.

Flying bumblebee.
Photo: Dave Young Flickr


Work on insects may only be performed in rooms specially designated for it. In insects rooms where allergenic insects are handled, there should be a sign posted outside saying:

”NOTE! Allergy risk. Work with insects present in this room. Use special protective clothing and footwear, preferably also filtering half mask and tight-fitting goggles. Designated cleaning equipment shall be kept in this room only.”


  • Everyone who works with insects (which are classified as experimental animals according to AFS 1990:11 (on the Swedish Work Environment Authority's web)), should work in such a way as to avoid inhaling or being exposed to insect allergens, that is ”insect particles” (scales, hair, skin fragments or faeces).
  • Work with allergenic insects or insect specimens should be done at a ventilated workplace, such as point source ventilation, exhaust bench or fume cupboard.
  • Use lab coats and gloves and keep them in the insect facility to avoid spreading particles to other areas. Put used coats in a special labelled laundry bag. Wash them often.
  • Use an adhesive mat at the entrance or special shoes in the facility.
  • Insects to be dissected in the lab should be moved there in closed containers. To avoid unnecessary allergen proliferation avoid having too many insects in the same container.
  • During dissection try to hold the insects so it doesn’t spread dusty particles, and put wet paper underneath to catch particles.
  • During behavioural experiments indoors limit the amount of allergen in the air by reducing the number of insects at the same time or keeping them in an appropriate cage.
  • Use lab coats and gloves also when you feed other animals with insects.
  • Special rules apply for work with hymenopterans with venomous stingers like wasps, bees, and bumblebees.

Working with stinging insects

For those who will be working with live wasps, bees, bumblebees or other insects with venomous stings there is a special document, which should be read carefully and signed to prove you understand the instructions before starting the work. Everyone in the Department of Biology who works with stinging insects is encouraged to use this document (pdf, 160 kB, new tab).

Hymenopteras such as bees, wasps and bumblebees have stingers, which can develop into different types of allergies if you get stung, at worst life-threatening reactions (anaphylactic shock).

You should wear a protective bee suit with the net hood fastened securely, rubber gloves and rubber boots. The gloves should be fitted with long arm extensions that sit tight on the arm with elastic. Be aware that bumblebees can sting through clothing. To avoid aggravating the bumblebees (which increases the chance of being stung), you should always move around the cage carefully, making slow movements.

Existing medication should be personal so that the user is familiar with the purpose of the preparations and expected effect.

You should also do an allergy test to see if you are at high risk. If you have developed an allergy, contact the allergy clinic for a prescription of a special adrenaline injection or -spray to have available when working with wasps. Always contact a co-worker immediately if you have been stung and go to the emergency room at the hospital!

Cultivation and storage

  • Cultivation and storage of insects should be done in dedicated rooms with good ventilation. The ventilation system should be designed so air extracted from these rooms will not enter other premises such as offices and other labs.
  • Cultivation-/storage rooms and cages must be constructed so that they can be properly cleaned. One should not keep too many insects in the same cage/box and you should also think about what type of container to use, to reduce the risk of allergen spread.
  • Suitable material in cages for flying insects, such as butterflies, is soft walls of thin cloth or plastic. These can be easily replaced and also the spread of scales from the wings becomes lower when the butterflies fly around in this type of cage. If you use plastic boxes with lids for butterfly culturing, these should be soaked thoroughly inside before you take off the cover for washing, to avoid spreading a lot of scales in the room. You can also use a spray bottle with water to spray the waste if it releases a lot of particles into the air, and in addition, put a wet towel on top of the waste. The sink should be in the same room as where the insect equipment is cleaned to avoid transportation in corridors.
  • If you work with orthopterans (grasshoppers, locusts, crickets) their faeces are highly allergenic, especially when dry. Again, wet the boxes before washing to decrease the amount of dust in the room.
  • During waste handling and cleaning of equipment containing dust from insects, use lab coat, gloves and preferably also filtering half mask and goggles.
  • Particle filtering half masks, also called lightweight respirators, must be of class FFP2. They come with or without vent in boxes of ten. Put up the box on the wall. Mark personal masks with your name. If you have an allergy, see more below, under ”allergy”.

Inhalation allergy risks

The recommendations above concern insects in general, some insects spread less allergenic than others. In general, there are much fewer problems with insects which have hard cuticles, like adult beetles, than insects with soft cuticles (like butterflies or mayflies).

A risk assessment should be done before any work with insects, that is examining if there is anything reported about the species involved or if they can be considered as ”low risk” insects.

The allergy clinic (”Allergimottagningen”) at the hospital shall be able to perform a test on the person with a suspected insect allergy. The University Occupational Health Services (”Företagshälsovården”) can provide a referral there if you contact them first. The allergy clinic should have access to screening preparations containing butterfly scale extracts or other allergens, and can inform about various symptoms of allergy:

  • Running or itching nose.
  • Eyes that are red, swollen, draining or itching.
  • Skin that itch, crack, produces blisters or blush.
  • Lungs/neck aches, gives rales, coughing, etc.

Allergy sufferers

People who work with allergenic insects that have already developed insect allergies should;

  • Work in a ventilated workplace. Exhaust bench recommended.
  • Use coat, gloves and tight-fitting goggles.
  • Use a filter mask with protection class P2 (FFP2) when you enter the insect lab. Masks should be stored in closed containers when not in use, to avoid contamination and be personal. Mark it with your name but do not use the same mask for a long time but change frequently.
  • Use separate protective clothing for cultivation and storage.
  • Substitution of other tasks may be the only solution for people with a severe insect allergy.

Some insects reported causing sensitisation by inhalation

  • Order Example Silverfish (Zygentoma) – Silverfish
  • Orthopterans (Orthoptera) – Crickets, grasshoppers, locusts
  • Mayflies (Ephemeroptera) – Mayflies
  • Cockroaches (Blattodea) – Cockroaches
  • True Bugs (Hemiptera) – Scale insects
  • Flies (Diptera) – Houseflies, fruit flies
  • Moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera) – Almost all moths and butterflies
  • Beetles (Coleoptera) – Cereal weevils
  • Caddisflies (Trichoptera) – Caddisflies
  • Hymenopteras (Hymenoptera) – Bees, bumblebees, wasps

Produced by Carina Rasmussen and Erling Jirle, Department of Biology, Lund University, January 2013. Examined by Åsa Gustafson, LU Estates and Dr Hans Wirje, Lund University Occupational Health Services. Updated Mars 2014.


Erling Jirle
Research engineer
Funtional Zoology

Telephone: +46 46-222 49 99
E-mail: Erling [dot] Jirle [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se

Carina Rasmussen
Research engineer
Functional Zoology

Telephone: +46 46-222 93 40
E-mail: Carina [dot] Rasmussen [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se