Subspecies again - honeybees. When to agree with a species level ID?

Hi! I hope I have labeled this topic well enough that those of you (I suspect there are some) who feel it has “been talked to death” can avoid it :) I am a frequent bee observer and I’ve been trying to learn to identify bees partly so that I can help out in the bee queues and do my part to “give back” to all the wonderful bee identifiers out there.

Because my motivation here is to give back to the community I am always asking myself “is my behavior actually beneficial?” I have many such questions, but this specific one is about taking honeybee observations to RG.

If I go into the queue and look for observations with an ID of Apis Mellifera, I will get a lot of flowers (no visible bee) and blurs. Getting these out of the queue is clearly beneficial, though it requires a willingness to disappoint the observer that I don’t always possess. i don’t think that’s in question.

What is more questionable is whether it is useful for me to put an agreeing ID on observations that already have one ID of A mellifera— when A mellifera is one of those very well known organisms that can often be IDed to the subspecies level.

Sure, I could mark that it’s possible to achieve a finer grade ID, but this would somewhat contradict the goal of cleaning up the “needs ID” queue.

I could mark them that way only if the bee has interesting characteristics - for instance, a darker or lighter coloration than the “feral” bee population in the area, and thus more likely to be a clearly identifiable subspecies. But then maybe someone would like to be able to access all the “feral type” bees in LA as Africanized honeybees?

I could mark them as being possible to achieve a better ID if the picture is very good - I think this might be the most desirable for A mellifera identifiers, but least desirable for those observers who might be frustrated at not being able to get their IDs to RG.

I am inclined to take the “a better ID is possible if it’s a clear picture of a bee that differs from the local feral population” but I wanted to give bee identifiers who use the forum an opportunity to say they would prefer different behavior.

Of course it also is an argument for changing the “RG vs needs ID” functionality in iNaturalist but I feel that topic has been covered far better elsewhere by people who have much more familiarity with the issues than I have!

@rustybee’s website has a list of useful tips, in plain language, for identifying honeybees:

If you are looking at observations in North America, there is only one species of Apis present, Apis mellifera. So if I see something that is clearly an Apis bee in North America, I feel confident in marking it as Apis mellifera. However, the feral honeybee population seems to be quite variable in color, and I don’t really feel confident marking any of the American honeybees to the subspecies level.


You can avoid using in places with unusual ssp. like South Africa and id everywhere out if Asia where there’s single honeybee species.


Mainly I’m worried that I’m removing the chance for experienced identifiers to provide a subspecies ID. Of course one can search for unreviewed research grade observations that aren’t identified below the species level (iNaturalist’s identify filters are really wonderful, aren’t they?) but there might be many reasons that isn’t preferred, so I thought I would check with the community before confidently doing what “seems obvious to me” in case it really isn’t the right answer.

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It’s the norm to add species IDs to observations where someone else might later be able to add a finer ID. Not a problem at all and definitely beneficial.


Thank you! I always want to make sure when I think I’m helping, I’m actually helping :)


yes, exactly this. I don’t even usually classify my own observations to subspecies.


You always can both add species id and mark obs as “can be improved” and write a comment about it, so if observer wants no further ids it they can answer or just vote for “can’t be improved”.

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