Bee and Wasp Photo Tips to get Species-grade IDs

That’s a good point. I’m not familiar with those species in detail, yet.

I’ve also seen some observations of just nests (where no bees or wasps were seen), which sometimes get genus, subgenus, or species ID.

Here in Florida, we have many postings of nests, which, as far as I know can’t be taken below genus level in our state, though I am sure the situation is different elsewhere.

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If you can safely capture the bee, it can be placed in a cold case* until it becomes immobile. Then, you can gently turn it over for pictures of different angles.

When you are done, let the critter go. Usually, they warm up in a few minutes and toddle off.

Noting: I am a bit afraid of touching bees, so I have only done this with small non-stinging insects like spiders, silverfish, lady beetles, ants, thrips, etc.

*I just use a saucer or old jar lids (one has a clear window, which is nice but not essential) and an ice pack from the freezer, but there are many easy refinements one could do.

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That’s good description. I’ll add, you can collect bees and wasps and transfer to them containers without touching them. A tip:

Use a collection net with a long net length. Catch the insect and flip the net 180 degrees. It will be trapped in the net portion hanging off the circular net hoop. Then it can be transferred into jars, etc. by moving that net portion into the jar and slowly opening it.

Another good thing is many bees don’t typically sting, like small halictid bees.

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Does anyone here specialize in east Asian bees or wasps? I’ve tried tagging a few people but most seem to be unfamiliar with species in my location. I’m based in Japan and am having trouble finding help with IDs.


Those are the ones that pop in my head. The first one is an assistant professor at NUS so you can find details there, and the other is more focused on Hong Kong species (which is where I am mostly based), but has published many papers on Hymenoptera ( Both aren’t based in your country but its worth considering them. They have certainly helped me a lot in my IDs.


I know a few species in Asia so far, mostly those that overlap with Oceania. I know most of the species in Hawaii and Guam.

I took a look at your Japan observations. I seem to see mostly Scoliid wasps. Using Explore, I see there’s a diversity of scoliid species in Japan. So I assume that group might be somewhat difficult, or is possibly under-described in literature (which is true of some species in some locations in Asia).

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Hi all. By the way, I made a 2nd related post (for any users in comments who didn’t see it). It’s about tips or guides to ID bees and wasps based on anatomy.

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Your best bet for Scoliidae is probably Bob McCall (bob296’s Profile · iNaturalist)

@bdagley Thank you! I’ve noticed you have already contributed on a some of my observations. Much appreciated!

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Thanks! I will try tagging them.

Hello! First of all, faerout pointed out that it feels weird tagging people that you don’t know so if you want to know more about me check out my iNat profile (@tachysphex).

Now onto the main topic:

  • For live specimens, you can use a clear container if close-ups are needed. If you’re outside and don’t have access to a freezer, I’ve been told that you can get insects to behave by giving them sugar water or fruit- works even with Tarantula Hawks.

  • Once you have the specimen under control, you can use a loupe or macro lens for even more detailed photos. Loupes and other supplies can be bought from Bioquip. You don’t need to have expensive macro lens to get a good shot- Good lighting and patience is usually enough! Just look at the taxon photo for Nomada, which I took with my phone and a clip-on macro lens that I got off Amazon for $20.

  • Take more than one photo if possible. Some of the key features for identifying wasps are:
    -Eyes and ocelli (the three small “eyes” located on top or front of the head): Some may have less than 3 ocelli or no ocelli at all. Eye shape and ocelli can often help determine family and beyond in some Aculeata and Ichneumonidae.
    -Head and antennae: The shape of head is useful in some cases where different species have similar colors or appearance. Getting a clear view of the antennae can help determine gender and family or beyond in some cases. In most Aculeata, males have more antennal segments than females.
    -Pronotum and Mesonotum: These are the neck and the back of the wasp respectively. See diagram here. They are often helpful for determining family and tribe.
    -Abdomen: A dorsal shot of the abdomen is critical so that bands, patterns, hairs, etc. are visible. A common example would be the abdominal pattern of Vespula spp., which identifiers often use to determine species.
    -Wing veins: This one is especially difficult; The resolution might not be good enough, the wings might be too dark to make out the veins, or the wasp has its wings in a position where veins are not clearly visible, as is the case in Vespidae when wings are folded. But if you manage to get even part of the venation, a lot can be inferred from it, and it is the only feature that will almost never vary in a species.


Good points, and Nomada photo

I came across a dead Polistes fuscatus yesterday and used these tips to take pictures from all the important angles ( Thanks everyone!


Love the detail on those :)


I’ll add another ID tip, checking species flight season to narrow down options. An example is different Colletes species occur at different times between spring and fall. C. inaequalis is among the earliest.

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My suggestion for taking photo’s for identifying Solitaire & Bumble Bees (Family Apidae), is to take pictures in different views, as explained in the link and based on the structure characteristics in the (identification keys in the) YouTube videos and Regards,


Thanks for the info on the bug net.

I’ve been frustrated by several bees that buzz all around my shrubs, but NEVER land, so no even halfway a decent pictures. There was one BIG yellow/orange be who spent ages in the top of the crape myrtle, which has not blossomed yet. I don’t know why it was wasting it’s energy there so long. I have never seen such a big yellow bee, so I was frustrated I could not get even 1 recognizable picture. Now, I ordered a bug net so I can safely capture and chill one, if it comes back.


Sounds good. I also tried putting a live bee in a jar with a few drops of sugar water. That also made it move less, easier to photograph. Then let it go after.