I got a chance to practice my hobby a few days ago. I enjoy taking photos and identifying what’s in them. My favorite subjects are insects, spiders and other invertebrates. I also enjoy taking photos and identifying wildflowers and edible plants.
On a hot, windy day I spotted some beautiful flowers at the edge of a lake. When I got close I realized—bonus—the flowers were crawling with bees. Wildflowers and insects! A few ants too but I’m more interested in the bees. I guess everybody has their favorites.
The wind was pretty strong, making it hard to get clear photos, especially of the bees. I was balancing my phone for pictures, holding onto the flower stems (trying to keep the plants somewhat steady) and doing my best not to annoy the bees too much. I’ve taken close-up photos of bees many times and never once gotten stung but I didn’t want to get too pushy and break my record.
After I felt like I had enough photos of both the flowers and the bees I forgot about them for several days. Then I uploaded them into my identification app, inaturalist. That’s when I find out if I’ve done a good job.
The first goal is a good photo in sharp focus, of course. That’s something I’m still working on improving. Macro photography isn’t easy, especially when your subjects move around as much as bees.
For identification purposes, you also want several different views. In the case of one of the bees, I got a nice top view, which clearly showed a brown stripe between yellow and black. Because of that, I’m fairly confident in identifying it as a brown-belted bumblebee.
To do that I looked at side-by-side comparisons of the types of bees inaturalist suggested to me based on my photo. I checked out the range map, read the descriptions and sometimes I also do an internet search for additional help.
Unfortunately, in the case of the other bee, I only got a side view. The bee’s top lower abdomen isn’t visible, making it difficult for me to tell if it’s also a brown-belted bumble bee or another type. I think I remember that it was a larger bee than the other one but I’m not sure. So, I simply identified it as a bumblebee in inaturalist.
Perhaps another inaturalist member will help me identify it or maybe identification will never happen, without a second view. It’s a good reminder to keep trying to take photos from both the side and top. Sometimes, like in the case of a certain frog I can think of, a photo from the bottom can be helpful too. With this bee, a side view was about the best I could get, considering I was trying to hold onto the plant on a very windy day and also not get stung. Then there’s the fact that the bees don’t sit still for photos very well. Busy, busy, busy!
As for the plant, I guessed it might be a type of milkweed but I wasn’t sure. Inaturalist helped me identify it as swamp milkweed. Unlike the crawling and flying bees, I had plenty of time to get multiple views of the milkweed.
For plants that means anything you can see, including things like blossoms, fruit, seeds, stems and leaves. I learned that the hard way after realizing I couldn’t make an identification because all I took were photos of pretty flowers. Sometimes wildflowers are quite similar and it’s the shape of the leaves that tells you the exact type.
Not a bad day for wildflower and insect identification for me. Two types of bees, I think, and a new-to-me type of milkweed. All that’s left to do is keep taking better photos and learning more about identification. I’m looking forward to it.
If you’d like to learn more, here’s a very handy chart to help identify male and female bumblebees of Minnesota.
Here’s more about swamp milkweed.
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