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Insect Identification Key
Order Hymenoptera: the bees, wasps, hornets and ants

Various hymenopteransl
These are four examples of the order Hymenoptera. Clockwise from upper left, the insects are: carpenter bee (genus Xylocopa, family Apidae); wasp; yellowjacket (family Vespidae); honey bee (Apis mellifera). Insects collected and identified by: Sara Mitchell. Photo credit: Amanda McCreless.

Click here to see examples of more bees, wasps, hornets and ants!

Based on your answers to the questions, you have identified your insect as being in the order Hymenoptera!

Members of this order include: wasps, bees, hornets, ants, sawflies, horntails, and ichneumonflies

Etymology: Hymenoptera comes from the Greek words Greek words hymen meaning membrane and ptera, which means wings. This refers to their filmy, or membranous, wings.

General characteristics:
• vary in size from 1 mm to 6 cm
• two pairs of membranous wings that link together with tiny hooks called hamuli (a few have no wings)
forewings are larger than hind wings
• presence of either chewing mouthparts, or mouthparts shaped like a tube for taking up nectar
• well-developed compound eyes
• many, but not all, have a very narrow waist between the thorax and abdomen
holometabolous metamorphosis (egg — larvapupa — adult)

Number of recognized species worldwide: about 103,000

Click here to see examples of more bees, wasps, hornets and ants!


Kingdom Animalia
   Phylum Arthropoda
      Class Insecta
         Order Hymenoptera

For a list of all of the orders in this key, click here: List of Orders.

Classification note: Some insects in this order have “fly” in their names, but they are not true flies. True flies have only one pair of wings and are in the order Diptera.

Oops! If this doesn't appear to be the order for your insect, go back through the key and look more carefully at your insect while answering the questions again. Your perseverance will reward you!

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Photos at the top of this website are (from left to right): potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) — photo credit: Scott Bauer, U.S. Department of Agriculture; ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)— photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; sweat bee (Agapostemon splendens) — photo credit: Natalie Allen and Stephanie Kolski, U.S. Geological Survey; preying mantis, monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), hellgrammite (aka toe biter) larva and eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) — photo credit: Leslie Mertz; Halloween pennant (Celithemis eponina) — photo credit: Kay Meng, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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