This paper examines the early history of agricultural entomology in the Russian empire in the decades before Russian universities and learned societies occupied centre stage in the intellectual life of the country. It aims to contribute to the ongoing discussions of historically contingent relations between ‘amateurs’ and ‘professionals’ in scientific research. It explores the social identities of those people who took part in the production and circulation of scientific knowledge, and argues that in this period Russian officialdom played a major role in these processes. The state officials’ engagement with natural history originated out of a broader information gathering agenda, which was characteristic of the early- to mid-nineteenth century. At the same time, the paper highlights the importance of provincial observers who were indispensable for providing field data for bureaucratic ‘inventorying’ of imperial resources. This dependency on local observers had far reaching implications, including the dissemination of the language and practices of natural history among wider audiences.