The Hymenoptera are daunting. I have wallowed in literature for days trying to key Pteromalids, only to find out years later that the insects I have are unnamed or maybe not – the genus is being revised (or maybe not). It seems ants have more morphological differences among castes within a species, than they do between species. I have found if you absolutely need an Ichneumonid identified the American Entomological Institute is well worth the $75 identification fee.
The Xerces Society has two field guides to bumble bees (Eastern and Western North America) available for free (as downloads)! Well how hard can a single genus be? The answer is hard enough. I took the few bumble bees in our insect collection and went into the guide. The answers were the same as I had before, but I would have felt more comfortable with a dichotomous key. Perhaps the guides don’t include such because they want you to identify bumble bees while alive. If you download these books, you will not be disappointed – there is a ton of good information. Like most things, my bumble bee identification will get better with practice.
Of course, the reason for the guides is the decline of bumble bees.
One huge quibble is the ridiculous common names used in these guides. Most of the names are based on the scientific names so Bombus morrisoni becomes Morrison Bumble Bee, but when Bombus vosnesenskii becomes Vosnesensky Bumble Bee – I don’t think these names help. I don’t like common names, I have found their use creates confusion – especially with plants. Any dinosaur loving child can say: Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, or Velociraptor. Why not give extant organisms the same respect? Please expect a rant soon on ridiculous common names. I know nobody wants to read it, but it is my blog…