Recently, three different models have been proposed to explain the distribution of abundances in natural communities: the self-similarity model; the zero-sum ecological drift model; and the occasional–frequent species model of Magurran and Henderson. Here we study patterns of relative abundance in a large community of forest Hymenoptera and show that it is indeed possible to divide the community into a group of frequent species and a group of occasional species. In accordance with the third model, frequent species followed a lognormal distribution. Relative abundances of the occasional species could be described by the self-similarity model, but did not follow a log-series as proposed by the occasional–frequent model. The zero-sum ecological drift model makes no explicit predictions about frequent and occasional species but the abundance distributions of the hymenopteran species did not show the excess of rare species predicted by this model. Separate fits of this model to the frequent and to the occasional species were worse than the respective fits of the lognormal and the self-similarity model.