Identifying Non-Bee Flower Visitors

Bees come in all sizes and color patterns and other insects often mimic bees and wasps, so don’t identify a bee based on color alone.

You can often see bees carrying pollen attached to feathery hairs on their bodies, or in compact pollen baskets (corbicula) on their hind legs. These hairs are part of the reason bees are such effective pollinators.

Look for bees’ unique behavior

Bees are vegetarians and rely solely on the pollen and nectar from flowers for their food. As a result, they are industrious foragers and highly effective pollinators. On warm and sunny days, bees will move quickly from flower to flower, gathering nectar and collecting pollen on their bodies to take back to their nests.

For any non-bee insect that visits a flower during your 5 minute survey, tap the “non-bee” icon to record the visit in the app.

Wasps (Order Hymenoptera)

Wasps are in the same order as bees (Hymenoptera) and so have similar characteristics. Similar to bees, wasp species present a variety of colors and patterns, so you must look at other physical characteristics to identify them correctly.

Compared to bees, wasps:

  • tend to move more slowly between flowers and take their time collecting flower nectar.
  • have a pinched waist and narrower body
  • lack feathery hairs for carrying pollen

Learn more about wasp pollination

Flies (Order Diptera)

Flies are in a different order from bees and so have unique physical features, even though some fly species mimic bees and wasps with their yellow and black coloring. The hover fly pictured here is a common flower visitor in Wisconsin. Many flies that visit flowers have a distinctive ability to hover steadily in place.

Compared to bees, flies have:

  • only one pair of wings
  • huge eyes that fill the head
  • very short, stubby-antennae

Learn more about fly pollination


Butterflies (Order Lepidoptera)

Many insects will visit a flower to collect the nutritious nectar, like this butterfly (pictured), and may pick up some pollen in the process, but none are as effective at pollination as bees.

Beetles (Order Coleoptera)

Many species of beetles can be found foraging for nectar on flowers, and some flowers are actually adapted to be pollinated primarily by beetles. You can identify beetles by their hard leathery wing covers, their habit of walking around on flowers rather than flying directly from flower-to-flower, and by their relatively clumsy flight compared to bees, wasps, or flies.