Strategies to filter-search and organize efforts to identify bees and wasps

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Bees and wasps have a high number of global observations, too many for identifiers to fully keep up with. This discussion is for sharing search filter or other technical strategies or tips, current focuses or updates, or other ideas to help organize to ID. Here are some I use:

Explore

  • Zoom/nagivate through map to find obs. in locations difficult to otherwise search by name in iNat (e.g. Micronesia; some locations are missing)
  • For locations only Identify has: copy the Identify place ID from the URL and paste into the Explore URL to find it on the map.
  • Search a location by keyword: click Species: see iNat. records (isn’t a full location checklist)
  • Click each Species to go to page to view Similar Species and Map

Taxa pages

  • Check Map’s geographic range, turn on GBIF data filter (top right box on map)
  • Search literature for location’s species checklists and identification keys

Lists

  • Combine species in published location checklists with additional found on iNat. to create public iNat. location checklists: use to know spp. options per location

Identify

  • Restrict location (e.g. Hawaii) and taxon (e.g. bees; Xylocopa)
  • Use search URLs to save your search filter preferences (see the forum topic by title)
  • Search all obs. for each genus/species you know sequentially
  • Take note of groups typically only possible to ID to genus/subgenus (e.g. Dialictus)
  • Use filter “high” and “low” taxon, e.g. to only see obs. with species-IDs
  • View non-reviewed casual grade and RG obs. (RG are occasionally incorrect)
  • View every obs. in enlarged-view w/o IDing, then ID all from the grid-view using “Agree”
  • Use “Agree” directly from the grid view for known/easy species (optional, use caution)
  • For unclear photos, right click “view image in new tab” to magnify larger
  • Uncheck reviewed box for obs. you want to ID later (if you typically search “unreviewed”)
  • Take note of genus/subgenus obs. you or others may determine species for later
  • Review/ID locations or taxonomic groups completely and sequentially (ID characters and spp. options freshest in memory)
  • Don’t rely on Computer Vision, unless it matches and you check range/spp.
  • Avoid species IDs unless you know location ID options and how (or if) spp. differ
  • Add uncertain IDs as comments, or at least comment ID is uncertain
  • If only IDing either bees or wasps, learn commonly confused taxa (bees, wasps, flies, etc)

Organization/communication

  • Determine if the community IDing a location agrees with each others’ IDs; discuss if not
  • Correct/comment on if users are guessing (e.g. all Agapostemon being IDed as A. virescens, out of range IDs)
  • Unclear photos: consider recommending users optionally crop/edit
  • Contact authors from checklist publications for questions about spp. list or how to ID
  • Consider IDing specific locations or groups with other identifiers, sharing ID notes or creating projects

Notifications and Dashboard

  • Check all ID notifications (tip: turn off agreeing-ID notifications)
  • Subscribe to Dashboard notifications for specific genera, species, and locations
  • Take note of iNat taxon changes (uncommon for bees), which show in Dashboard
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Related tips

  • Use discoverlife.org and bugguide.net to help narrow down tribes and genera
  • These videos are more in depth about North American bee genera http://bio2.elmira.edu/fieldbio/beemovies/index.html
  • For newer people like me, focus on a few groups and areas and learn them well. I normally do Arizona-New Mexico and look especially for plants I recognize, like Malvaceae, where there’s a small set of typical insect species.
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Couple of things that I do:
=If you have a user who asks questions about how you got an ID, consider running through just their observations, I’ve done this before, and it is appreciated by people.
=If I come across an ID’er who consistently makes bad ID’s I run through their ID’s https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/identify?ident_user_id= fill in the user name after the = sign.
=If you find a questionable observation well out of the expected range, search for the image on Google Chrome, it’s annoying how often I’ve found the questionable picture in a news article or magazine.
=One I need to do more often is to remember to go through all of the pictures in the observation, if an observation gets to research grade then every picture gets shown in the page about that species even if the observation had extra species in other pictures, and can be deceiving when people are looking through those pictures.

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Those videos look great I can’t wait to watch those.

Yes, those videos are similar to weekly zoom/video calls and include a live Q&A. If anyone is interested in joining live please see contact instructions here.

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I have especially struggled with ammophila and megachile, too many cryptic species in a less studied region means I can never confirm any species

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Even if I cannot ID them further myself, I like to add bees and wasps to relevant projects to make them more visible.
https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/nesting-bees
https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/flower-visiting-wasps-of-the-world
https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/parasitic-apocrita-of-america
https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/paper-wasps-of-north-america

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It’s true many species are difficult to refine ID for past genus or subgenus. Most typically, many Dialictus for example. Ammophila is difficult. Although in many cases of difficult groups species are still possible to distinguish, with sufficient magnification and photo angles, and identifier knowledge of distinguishing characters. In most difficult examples, high magnification may still allow species IDs (e.g. microscope photos if specimens are collected). Most or all Megachile for example are distinguishable in that way (although they may not be in many ordinary photos).

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I think another useful point is where the experts can advise people on what makes good photos for identification, particularly with bees/wasps/ants. For instance clear shots of venation, front of face, tibias, abdominal segments, etc. It can be difficult if the eye is in focus (as is generally the advice for photography) but the wings, antenna and limbs are fuzzy…

The more of this is practiced the easier it is to reference previous identifications to compare.

I’ve also found with many of the wasps I’m looking at that filtering only ‘Research Grade’ removes all photos due to low IDer count generally! This just makes it more important to ensure those that do make research grade have strong identifying evidence visible or clear descriptions, rather than just because the IDer ‘knows’ the species :)

I’m a relative noob of a bee IDer, and I’m wondering what I can do to be most helpful. At the moment I mostly ID Apis mellifera, hoping to get those out of the way so that the experts don’t have to deal with as many of them. I do that either by filtering for anything in the US in Apis or by going through bees stuck at Epifamily=Anthophila. While I’m there, I clear away flies and wasps, or do another occasional obvious sorting to family level (like bee with abdominal scopa → Megachilidae).

But I wonder if there’s something different I could be doing that would be more helpful. Do we have specific goals we want to reach as a community?

Reducing the number of mistake in species-level IDs seems like it would be very valuable so the CV doesn’t get mis-trained; are most errors like that getting caught already or would backup help? There aren’t many bees I could confirm to species level right now, but I could imagine us doing ID parties like the fly people, where people like me get trained on a specific taxon and then we can go in and clean it up.

I’d also just be interested in knowing how some of the experts go about their ID workflow. Do you usually go taxon by taxon, or just tear through the newest crop of “Needs ID” bees, or go through the RG ones to make sure they’re right? What are the most common mistakes you see people make that you wish you had help cleaning up?

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Starting with Apis mellifera is also helpful, especially since some IDs can be misidentified as it by observers and need correcting. I’d recommend just continuing to ID bees and learning families, genus, subgenus, and maybe more species over time. In the US, species like Apostemon virescens, and (any) Bombus impatiens, B. griseocollis, B. bimaculatus, etc. are often easily be picked out. For Lasioglossum, often the genus or subgenus (e.g. Dialictus) is the most specific ID that can be specified. Learning some wasps at the same time is good too as you say, because some get misidentified as bees. I sometimes use Identify with the “high and low taxon” filters, and filter for “Bees,” or sometimes “Bees - species” which will give only species-level observations.

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