Thistle longhorn bee (Melissodes desponsus)

Apidae > Melissodes > Melissodes desponsus

Eastern thistle longhorn bee (Melissodes desponsus) can be found buried deep in the frills of a thistle. This late-summer longhorn bee is always found close to its thistle (Cirsium spp.) host plants. Females are large and robust, with a pale thorax and all-black abdomen, but don’t be fooled into thinking bumble bee: females carry bright white thistle pollen in brush-like scopae.




Widespread, but seemingly more common in interior parts of northeast. In midwest, common in cities and developed areas.   


Size ≈ honey bee

Females are fairly distinctive among eastern Melissodes. Thorax has pale hairs and pale hairs extend down sides of thorax and on top first segment of abdomen. Rest of abdomen is mostly black with diffuse (not crisp) banding. Worn individuals can have substantial bald spot on top of thorax. Scopal hairs are orange but often packed with bright white Cirsium pollen.

Males resemble females but with long antennae and a yellow clypeus.  

Similar species

  • Melissodes dentiventris also has a black abdomen and orange scopal hairs, but thorax hairs are orange and typically doesn’t visit Cirsium in the northeast.  


Ground-nesting and solitary.


Thistles (Cirsium spp.), including native species like field thistle (Cirsium discolor) and exotic species like bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare). Nectar plants include coneflower (Echinacea). In general, thistles are more common in disturbed habitats, such as roadsides and old fields.

Natural Enemies

Triepeolus donatus is a cleptoparasite.

Page last updated:
February 22, 2023