Bee and Wasp Photo Tips to get Species-grade IDs

My tips are below. Anyone have more, or comments?

  • Aim for good resolution, clarity, lighting, unobstructed view. Wait near flowers immobile, if needed lean vs. walk, prevent shadows, take from distance only if excellent camera, continue to photo. as they move or fly from flowers (note: they rarely sting when nectaring).

  • Photo. as many even slightly unique angles as possible (dorsal, ventral, anterior, posterior, combinations). Crop photos before uploading (easier with iNat. desktop version).

Best chance of finest ID for difficult species (abbreviation: spp.):

  • Collect and photograph a specimen, e.g. using digital microscope-camera or dissecting microscope-mounted camera. Non-lethal alternative: collect with container (or briefly chill with cooler/freezer), photo. when immobile, release alive.

  • Consult ID keys to understand relevant (spp.-specific) body characters/photo. angles (e.g. Bees of the Eastern U.S., (DL), (BG).

Understand genus/spp. ID possibilities when uploading photos, given location:

  • Field guides and databases, e.g. iNat. (Explore - set taxon/location, view Species page); DL; BG; (note: spp. lists may be incomplete - ask naturalists/taxonomists)

  • Consult by-location spp. taxonomic checklists, e.g. DL; Northeastern Nearctic Vespid wasps (; Apoid wasps (; find publications (search “Bees/Wasps/Hymenoptera/Insects of [Location]” on

  • Some spp. can immediately get ID with experience, e.g. Apis mellifera, Melissodes bimaculatus, Bicyrtes quadrifasciatus, Eumenes fraternus, Sphecius speciosus.

  • Depending on location/taxon, 1-to-few spp. ID options can be known from only family/genus, e.g. Honey Bee= A. mellifera, Lg. Carpenter Bee= Xylocopa virginica, Agapostemon= Ag. subgenus (4 spp.), most Mellisodes= Eumellisodes (6-8 spp.), Ceratina= Zadontomerus (4 spp.), other small metallic bees= Dialictus, most or all Tiphiidae= Tiphia, etc.

  • Certain groups are either difficult or near impossible to know spp. from live photos (e.g. Agapostemon, Augochlorini, Mellisodes, Hylaeus, Colletes, Sphecodes, Lasioglossum, Isodontia, Eumeninae, Ichneumonidae, Braconidae, Chalcidoidea, etc.) - use microscope cam. or examine specimens manually.

(spp. observations are based on Northeastern United States/Southern Canada/Nearctic region)

Edit: website links have been fixed

[Please paste this reader list in new bee and wasp Forum posts (new users can join by indicating interest in the comment section): @liquidanbar @neylon @trevorsless @tockgoestick @beeboy @lydiahagarwong @rustybee @ny_wetlander @eebee @tachysphex (continued in comments)]


Reader list continued. @nsharp @richardlbaxter @louc33 @heatherholm @aliandbrice @xris @miriamht @jonathan142 @aaron567 @mettcollsuss


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Wow, thanks for this! Especially the list of people to tag. Is that really okay? There are a lot of names. Somehow I feel like I’m troubling people by asking directly like that. I’d love to have more attention on my bee and wasp observations, though!

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Have to say I never met those people other than @jonathan142 (and @Myles678 of course) so they must be focused on Nearctic.
Cause in Europe @johnascher and @frank007 are biggest contributors of bee ids (both by my experience and iNat stats).
@caseyborowskijr, @matthias22, @humanbyweight and @opolasek will help you with vespines, @susanna_h can help with a lot of Aculeata. @fateryga is not the biggest contributor of ids for now, but he’s studying Eumeninae.


Many people there, I’m sure with different specialties. It’s not too forward to tag everyone listed above in posts?


You mean everyone at once or just everyone? I think no expert will feel bad cause you tagged them once in a while, they’re happy to help, but surely tagging everyone in one message is not very respectful I think? But that’s my view on it.


That’s what I was thinking. So I thought I’d ask for some clarity. Maybe a few names here and there? I feel weird tagging people I don’t know. I’m not very familiar with wasps and bees, but I find myself taking pictures of them. I would be glad for any help.

The more you do that the closer you get with them! iNat is a great place to start communication like this, and I assure you if a person can help you they will, if you don’t like iding you can’t be a top ider after all! :D

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Thank you!


@bdagley That looks good. I would remind those that have things Dialictus, or some of the Pyrobombus that just look too much alike to ID with one or two photos, after you get community consensus on the ID, you can go down and hit Community Taxon Cannot Be Improved, and it will then go to Research Grade.


Oh, and I forgot, it’s a thing that quite helped me with genera:


@faerout @melodi_96

To clarify, the users at top are a list to be notified of Forum posts about bees/wasps (started in a previous discussion). Anyone new can join the list (just indicate interest if so via comment). It’s for all regions globally, though it’s true many have a primary focus in the US so far (I also have an interest in Oceania).

As for tagging for ID help, that’s just the usual case of reaching out to people and seeing if communication occurs (unrelated to the list). I’m fine to help any IDs I know.

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These are good points, I see people are going into morphology details (I didn’t really cover those in the text at the top).

I would definitely emphasize getting lots of angles, and posting any show a different part of the anatomy clearly. Different species have different distinguishing characteristics, so it could be mark on the front leg, or the shape of the rear femur, that an expert will be looking for. I’ll try to read up on the genus or subgenus after I’ve taken a photo that is not ID’d to species, so that the next time I can be prepared to get the right shot. Discoverlife is a good resource for this kind of information.

We are fortunate in the iNat community to have amazing, dedicated identifiers for bees and wasps, but they have a lot of work to do, so be patient waiting for an ID or confirmation (especially during Northern hemisphere summer when most observations are coming in).

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From personal experience, I agree flowers are the best places to photograph them. Though they dont stay still for very long so for phone users something like the burst feature on iphone may help here.

Photos of different angles is generally a good practice in general! Some morphological features between similar-looking species are more obvious in some angles than others.


That’s true. Occasionally a few Dialictus can be refined, but usually not.

That’s an interesting resource.

True about the burst feature.

What’s interesting is some are even talking about using automated camera systems (without being there the whole time physically) to photograph flowers. I haven’t seen many examples being uploaded yet though.

I’d also add a picture of the hive/nest if possible. Many of the tiny stingless Meliponini (specially Plebia genus for us in Brazil) can be more easily differentiated by their hive shape and structure rather than pictures of the insect itself. I think it also applies to some big wasps like Polistes.

Or so I read. Please correct me if I’m wrong.