yorkie's picture

Identification of bees and wasps from photos

I would like to know which species of British bees and wasps can be identified from photos. Is there any available information, or does anyone have any views on this topic?

I have been interested in wildlife for many years, mainly observing birds, dragonflies and butterflies, however, I only started taking insect photos relatively recently, in order to assist with the identification of butterflies seen on overseas trips.

Having upgraded my camera, last year for the first time I started photographing other insects; bees and wasps, several flies including hoverflies, bugs and beetles. However, I have discovered that the id. of such insects from photos is fraught with difficulty and in many cases is impossible. I have found some useful information - for example the British hoverfly recording system website indicates which species are easy, difficult or impossible to identify from photos.

I would like to know which species of bees and wasps can be identified from photos. Is there any available information, or does anyone have any views on this topic?



Martin Harvey's picture

ID from photos

I haven't seen a list for bees along the lines of the hoverfly one you mention, BWARS simply states that "most [ants, bees and wasps] are impossible to identify from photos alone".

Most groups of insects include some species that are immediately recognisable from a photo, some that may be recognisable if the photo shows the right combination of features, and some that cannot be identified from a photo at all. For the Hymenoptera, there are rather few species in the first category, and rather a lot in the third.

Even the bumblebees, which are relatively large, I find them very hard to ID from photos, partly because I'm not a great expert on them of course, but also because of the complications of having workers, queens, males and cuckoo species. Also, most of the common species have very similar 'look-alikes' that are rarer, so one can often say that a particular species is the most likely, but it's not always possible to rule out the rarer relative.

However, I wouldn't want to put people off photographing these beautiful insects. Many can be identified to genus from a good photo, and of course some are distinctive down to species level, so keep posting the images and we'll do what we can with them! Even knowing the genus of an insect is often enough to tell you quite a lot about its natural history and life cycle.

For more information about Hymenoptera identification see the BWARS page:

Entomologist and biological recorder

yorkie's picture

Bee id from photos


Thank you for your comments - I rather suspected that this was going to be tricky. I've already posted some bee and wasp photos, which I thought I had id'd accurately, some of which have been supported and others queried. I had very many bees in my garden last year feeding mainly on the long-flowering perennials such as Scabiosa ochraleuca (which they absolutely loved!), Verbena bonariensis, and Erysium Bowles Mauve, and I have lots more photos which I could not id with any real confidence. I find bees rather tricky to photograph well, but I think I'll do as you say and post some more photos and continue to seek feedback.


rimo's picture


Additionally, many species could potentially be identified from a photo, as long as the right bits were photographed - a shot of the facial markings of the social wasps as well as the abdominal markings, or the antennae of the Myrmica group of ants, for instance - rather than just the standard 'plan view' of an insect

Record your ladybird sightings!

Dick_Jones's picture

Bee IDs from photos

I can recommend "Field Guide to Bumblebees of Great Britain & Ireland" by Mike Edwards & Martin Jenner. Ocelli 2009 (www.ocelli.co.uk).
I successfully named two species which were confirmed by Mike - so 100% success!
However, I agree they are not easy to ID from photos, and Mike is probably not going to enter into personal services.
Like all inverts, they take a while to get to grips with, but for anyone determined, this book is a good start - down-to-earth, with all jargon explained, and a rather clever key spread across a double page, and using pattern details. As noted here, several have mimics, and are also variable. So only for the determined.


WildlifeStuff's picture

Bee ID's

I'd also recommend looking on the BWARS website at http://www.bwars.com/ they have some excellent keys, photos and information sheets you can download.

The NHM has a good bumblebee guide http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/research/projects/bombus/bumblebe... that I've used quite a bit as well.

Well worth taking several pictures from different angles (if you get the chance). You need to be able to see different things on different species - so I've found it's worth plugging away and getting as many pics as you can (however, there are always going to be bees that you won't be able to ID from photos).

Hope this helps.