#PolliNationSA | How to separate bees from other flower visitors

Published on September 13th 2020
A close up of a flower
Bees closest look-alikes are flies and wasps, which is mainly because many flies and some wasps mimic bees.
Not sure if you're looking at a bees, a wasp or a fly? Keep reading to learn how to separate these pollinators using the characteristics below.
A group of purple flowers
Foraging Cape honey bees


Bees are in the insect order Hymenoptera (membrane wings). They have four membranous wings, and most females carry pollen in a structure designed for the task: the scopa.
They have long antennae in the middle of the face, a narrow waist and branched hairs at least somewhere on their bodies although some bees are not very hairy at all.
The scopa is on the hind legs, under the abdomen or on the sides of the abdomen. Female cuckoo bees do not have a scopa.
A bunch of green bananas hanging from a tree
German wasp | Vespula germanica


Beewolves and Beepirates (both Sphecidae - Thread-waisted wasps).
Wasps also have four wings (i.e. Hymenoptera) but their antennae are near the bottom of the face, which occurs in only one bee, the spiral-horned bee (Systropha), and wasps never have a scopa.
A close up of a flower
Hover flies


Bee flies (Bombyliidae) and Robber flies (Asylidae).
Many flies mimic bees very well. Some are even called bee flies because of their resemblance to bees in look and behaviour. I don’t know why because most bees are not aggressive. Flies have only two wings and two halters, which are modified hind wings that look like tiny tennis rackets. Fly antennae have a large basal segment and a small hair-like arista. They don’t have a thin waist, but bee’s waists are difficult to see.
Eventually, identifying bees will be like recognising a flower. They have a particular look, behaviour and buzz. Taking an interest in them is all that is needed.

Share your bee pictures with us by using the hashtag #PolliNationSA!

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