Learn the pollinators

When observing the pollinators for this project, you have two options. If you feel relatively confident in the identification of the five major groups I have defined in this section, please use those groups. If you feel uncomfortable with identifying these five major groups, please just record all visitors as either “bee” or “fly”. 

If you feel comfortable, please record all floral visitors in the following categories. Take the cheat sheet with you to the field for easy reference!


Learning how to identify native bees and flies is sometimes tricky! Sometimes, you can tell exactly what species the floral visitor is as it is foraging, but most of the time, identifying what species a bee or fly is requires looking at very specific (and very tiny) morphological structures – often, this means collecting the insect and using a microscope to do the identification. Because it’s so tricky, we often identify bees to a larger group – we might be able to identify what genus it belongs to, or perhaps to a group of genera that look or act a certain way. When we’re observing pollinators in the field, we can also use behavioral characteristics to identify them – such as the way they fly, or the way they collect pollen or nectar from flowers.

Claytonia virginica and Claytonia caroliniana are visited by a variety of bees and flies – probably about 50 species of visitors. For the purposes of this project, I’ve grouped the bees and flies into four groups of visitors: Andrena erigeniae (the oligolege), bee flies, small black bees, and cuckoo bees. We’ll concentrate on identifying visitors to these groups, but as we go, you might figure out how to identify them more specifically, and perhaps learn about some of the less common visitors as well. You’re likely to see lots of Andrena erigeniae, the pollen-specialist, and perhaps lots of bee flies – the others will be less common.

As you’re observing a pollinator, take note of some things in particular. Is it a bee or a fly? Is it hairy? Slender? Is it mostly dark, or are there colorful markings? Is it collecting pollen, or does it have bunches of pollen attached to its body? Is it flying deliberately, or meandering slowly from flower to flower?

The key to learning how to identify bees is practice! Bring photos out with you to the field and take pictures yourself!

Printable guide to Claytonia pollinators