Some additional information about some of the insects you may see while watching flowers during the Wild Pollinator Count. For identification tips visit this page.
Here are some common insect pollinators you may see visiting flowers in Australia.
Other native bees Native bees vary in shape and color. Keep an open mind when watching flowers as you may not initially recognise these as bees. Many native bees appear quite hairy; but some are ‘smooth’ looking. They may have stripes or be mostly one color. Some are similar in size to honey bees, while others are just a few millimetres long. Some have special hairs to carry pollen on their legs or abdomen (and you may be able to see the pollen on them), while others do not.
Native bee: Exoneura species often have a red abdomen.
Native colletid bees can look similar to a honey bee, but are smaller in size.
European honey bee (Apis mellifera) Can range in color from golden to quite dark. Have a somewhat hairy appearance and often a ‘striped’ look that we’ve come to associate with them. They carry pollen on their back legs, but can also be covered in pollen after visiting large flowers like pumpkin.
Flower wasp (or tiphiid wasp). These can be completely black or striped yellow and black. They have a distinctive wasp ‘waist’ and long slender abdomen. In spring and summer, they can often be seen flying around ‘in copula’, where the male and wingless female are joined together during mating (see below).
Female flower wasps are often wingless and may look like ants. They release a pheromone to attract the males. Once mated, they lay their eggs in underground nests.
Many large parasitic wasps, e.g. species in the Ichneumonidae and Gasteruptiidae families, are also flower visitors and pollinators. They can be distinguished from other wasps by their long pencil-thin abdomen. They have other benefits as natural enemies of insect pests.
Ants are attracted to flowers to feed on sugary nectar, but they don’t always pollinate. Look for pollen on the ant’s body. Or see if you can tell when they are only robbing nectar from the base of the flower cup (and leaving pollination to another insect!).
Winged ants are not common flower visitors, and can be easily mistaken for wasps. A winged ant will usually be surrounded by lots of other ants, while most wasps forage alone.
Hover flies (or Syrphid flies) may be confused with bees because of their gold and black striped abdomen. On closer inspection, the differences are obvious. Their characteristic hovering flight is easy to spot and their abdomen is flat when looking side-on, while bee abdomens are rounded. They have classic, large round ‘fly eyes’. In some species, it may look like they have a black line down the centre of the abdomen dividing the stripes into two sections.
Another hover fly- there are many species and variations in color, patterns and size.
Calyptrate flies (Muscidae, Calliphoridae, Sarcophagidae, Tachinidae) need no introduction! But as well as annoying us, many of them are also pollinators and flower visitors, especially in cooler climates. They can be many colours, but are often metallic blue, green or black and may have yellow or grey markings.
Blow fly There are many species of Blow Fly and you may be surprised to know they can be important pollinators!
Moths are important pollinators, but are hardly ever caught in the act as they mostly fly at night. Nevertheless, you may be lucky, depending on the time of day or flower you are watching. This is a usually night-active bogong moth found on an apple blossom in the middle of the day! (You don’t have to distinguish between moths and butterflies to record them in the Count).
Plague soldier beetles.
Keen to get some help to identify the insects you’ve seen? Check out the other links and content on our Resources pages.