Photographing small native bees- how do I catch them with minimal stress?

I want to find out what native bees we have in the area, but a lot of them are very fast, and land infrequently if ever. I’m getting decent at photographing them in situ when they do land on a flower, but that doesn’t work so well for the super zippy ones that only land for half a second, or won’t land at all in the current spot.

What’s my best bet? A small, fine-meshed net and a clear container to temporarily transfer them into? A ziploc bag as a net?

Once I’ve caught them, how can I get them to sit still? I know chilling is an option, but I’d prefer to just hold them for a couple minutes and let them go, with minimal disturbance. Are there any foods I can bring that bees are interested enough to want while captured? For that matter, are there any foods that near-guarantee a bee will land and drink for awhile instead of moving constantly? I was thinking maybe a nice juicy orange slice. Bees like oranges, I assume.

I’ve caught a few bees with my net, then put a clear container over them and slid the lid under the container. It seems to work fairly well in terms of not scaring them too badly. I released a longhorn bee and it flew straight to a flower 3 feet away and went back to feeding, even though it had been buzzing rapidly around the inside of the cup. I’m guessing the net and cup reads more as “trapped by inconvenient scenery” than “caught by predator”, since I’d imagine a bee that I’d had in my hands would be much more inclined to leave fast.


Water feature, like a small dish with pebbles so they don’t drown. One person previously suggested a petri dish as a good clear container for photography.

If you don’t want to give up on the ‘in-situ’ observations, you’re best bet is early morning and early evening. I can easily pick up sleeping long-horned bees (or photograph them) if I go outside before 9am. Here’s an example of a sweat bee waking up in a prickly poppy flower.

Here’s a very small miner bee that flies quickly between flowers, but once they land you have a chance for a few decent pictures.


I’m willing to catch bees if they’re moving too much to photograph them without capture, but I do like photographing them without any extra bother. So, I’ll definitely try checking in the evenings. I don’t think that’ll work terribly well for a few months, though, considering evening temperatures are going to be in the 80s for awhile. Can’t imagine bees slow down very much just because it’s 85 degrees instead of 95.

A water dish is definitely worth a shot, since it’s nice and dry here at the moment. I may take both a water dish and a fruit slice to a few spots, see if I can get any interest. If it works, I may have to try and rig some sort of stand out of a tripod, to provide a good photography station. Preferably one in the shade. Bees don’t mind shade, do they?

Very nice photos! I’ve just gotten a new camera that can manage macro photos, but the only tiny bees I’ve found with it are ones that were on flowers above my head. Bit tricky to photograph them clearly when I can’t look at the camera screen to check for focus. I need shorter flowers. Or a stepladder.

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In my limited experience, they love hot, sunny, calm weather the best. The most annoying thing is that pictures are only enough for genus most of the time, large or small.

Patience and luck are key. Sometimes, the bees come to you! It was hard to get the shot as she crawled around on my left arm.

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Some people keep them in a closed container with some tissue paper for 10 minutes. After flying and buzzing and trying to scape they get quite tired, so you can open it and usually they don’t move to quickly (and if it is indoors, it will go to the window). This is how are made the pictures of bees in a white background.

Or you could stick them in the fridge for a few minutes to slow down their movement. Smaller insects warm up faster, though.

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Sometimes if you go out in the early morning you can find native bees resting on flowers.

I second your comment. Also sometimes after a rain storm I’ve found very wet bees waiting to dry off before they can fly again.

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Oh that is an interesting tip @morning/evening. Thank you. :)

And yes luck and stay calm…

Recently in the woods I finally did some good pictures of a conopidae, okay a fly not a bee…

Always nice, when you get rewarded while not giving up. :)

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I’ve had some luck with standing by plants and waiting for the bees to settle. Difficult to be patient in 90-degree heat, though. Maybe I’ll just photograph easier bugs until the weather is cooler. Caterpillars are great- you can just go up and take a picture, they’ll hold still.

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I rarely have good luck chilling bees for photos - they tend to warm up very quickly and fly off immediately so I get maybe 5-10 seconds tops for photo opportunities. These days I photograph little besides bees, and while it’s definitely still a challenge with the skittish and hyperactive ones, I usually just carefully chase a target around or stake out a flower of interest (generally the former as I’m often out with a particular genus in mind). Hylaeus will often pause for a few minutes to ‘bubble’ and that’s a good chance to photograph them. The flower itself can sometimes be a hindrance, as the way some are shaped forces bees to contort their bodies into unphotogenic positions (like blueberry for example). It’s a good day when you can get a bee on a flat composite! My tactic is pretty much ‘take 500 photos and hope that ten come out good’, which, thank the digital age for making that possible.
If your goal is ID over aesthetics, catching them in a net and chilling or putting them in a clear vial as many here on iNat do might give you the angles you need (and it’s good to learn what angles are important for various genera before heading into the field).


FWIW, it’s possible to keep insects chilled …at least for several minutes using various sorts of cold packs sold for therapy or first-aid. Most drugstores carry those . Best to avoid keeping the insect under ~too~ long, probably.

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I regularly stake out my coneflower and sunflower plants with good results.

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The local sunflowers definitely seem to be a favorite. They also have lots of other life on them, like leafhoppers, their companion ants, and young katydids.


This is just 2 families of bees known to associate with sunflowers. Check out for the full list (search Helianthus on the home page).


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