ID GUIDE TO WILD BEES
OF THE NATIONAL BUTTERFLY CENTER

Mission, Texas

ID GUIDE TO WILD BEES
OF THE NATIONAL BUTTERFLY CENTER

Mission, Texas

MELISSODES LONG-HORNED BEES
Melissodes

MELISSODES LONG-HORNED BEES
Genus Melissodes

 

Long-horned bees belong to the bee tribe Eucerini and have unusually long antennae – hence the name "long-horned".  Eucerini serve as essential pollinators for multi-million-dollar crop industries and include, among others, Svastra bees, instrumental in sunflower production; and Eucera bees that serve as key pollinators of melons and squash. The tribe Eucerini also includes Melissodes long-horned bees, a genus of irreplaceable pollinators of garden flowers, native wildflowers and sunflower crops.   

All Melissodes bees are ground-nesters.  The bees carve holes in the earth, where they construct individual nests containing brood cells lined with a waxlike material, each holding one egg and a single pollen ball.  The nests, which may be isolated or built in  groups, are frequently hidden under brush. 

 

Female long-horned bees tend to be easiest to find when they are out pollinating flowers.  Males often rest hanging by their jaws from the stems of plants. In early morning, it is sometimes possible to surprise whole groups of male long-horned bees sleeping together in this manner. 

Texas Melissodes long-horned bees tend to be most abundant in summer and fall.  Many are generalist pollinators.  Some, as noted below, specialize in aster-family flowers that bloom in late summer and autumn.  Others specialize on such flowers as thistles, mallow and evening primrose. 

Identification Information & Melissodes Subgenera

Melissodes long-horned bees are robust, medium-sized bees with hairy heads and bodies.  Females have prominent , bushy pollen-collecting scopal hairs on their back legs.  Males have narrower builds than females; lack scopal hairs on their hind legs; and usually sport much longer antennae.  Both female and male Melissodes bees may have striking green or blue-gray eyes; eye color within a given species may vary according to gender.

Texas has an exceptionally rich diversity of Melissodes long-horned bees.  Long-horned bees of three distinct subgenera, each with its own special characteristics, are found within the National Butterfly Center.  These subgenera include Eumelissodes, Melissodes and Tachymelissodes.

 

Subgenus EumelissodesMany Texas Melissodes long-horned bee species belong to the subgenus Eumelissodes, known by the common name “true long-horned bees”. True long-horned bees are usually about the size of a honey bee, or slightly smaller or slightly larger.  They have hairy faces and thoraxes, and their abdomens are typically dark and striped with bands of pale hairs.  An example is the Melissodes tristis female shown above right.

 

According to entomologist Charles D. Michener, all females of the subgenus Melissodes (Eumelissodes) have feathery scopal hairs, and all males have pale clypeuses and antennae on which the first segments are less than half as long as the second segments. True-longed horned bee species often specialize in pollinating plants of the family Asteraceae, which includes flowers such as goldenrod, sunflowers, asters, black-eyed Susans and ironweed.

Subgenus Melissodes.  Other Texas Melissodes long-horned bees belong to the redundantly-named subgenus Melissodes.

Bees of the subgenus Melissodes (Melissodes) often resemble true-long-horned bees – that is, they are hefty, with hairy faces and thoraxes, and banded abdomens. Females have bushy legs, and males typically have pale clypeuses and very long antennae (that reach at least to the front of their abdomens).

 

The Tepanec long-horned bee, Melissodes tepaneca is the most common example of the subgenus Melissodes found at the National Butterfly Center.  This bee has rust-colored thorax hairs, and an abdomen banded by stripes of pale hair.  Blond bushy hairs cover the legs of female Tepanec long-horned bees. Male Tepanec long-horned bees have pale-yellow clypeuses and striking green eyes.  Females have bluish eyes and dark clypeuses covered with pale hairs.

 

Tepanec long-horned bees are generalists, visiting an array of flowers as diverse as milkweeds, legumes and cactus. At the National Butterfly Center, these bees tend to collect during early fall around the verbena-family plant known as pigeonberry.  Females emerge after males and are seen most frequently on wild sunflowers.

Different species of long-horned bees within the subgenus Melissodes (Melissodes) vary greatly in appearance. For example, in sharp contrast to the Tepanec long-horned bee, the two-spotted long-horned bee, Melissodes (Melissodes) bimaculatus, has a coal-black body, and lacks bands on its abdomen.  The eyes of both males and females are a distinctive gray-blue.  The hind legs of both sexes are clothed in thick white hair. This species has not been documented at the National Butterfly Center, but is a common sight in Central Texas during the summer.

Subgenus Tachymelissodes This subgenus has relatively few members, which are found only in Western North America, principally in desert regions.  Melissodes (Tachymelissodes) bees have distinctively bold white banding on their abdomens and relatively short antennae for Melissodes long-horns.  The little prickly pear long-horned bee, Melissodes opuntiellus, shown at right, belongs to the  subgenus TachymelissodesThis bee is unusually small for a Texas long-horned bee -- under 1/3 inch long.  More information on this interesting pollinator of cactus, prickly poppies and other native Texas plants, is provided in the section below.

REFERENCES

TAXONOMY  OF  MELISSODES  BEES

Order:   Hymenoptera

Family:   Apidae

Subfamily:  Apinae

Tribe:  Eucerini

Genus:   Melissodes
Species shown below:

   Melissodes (Euelissodes) tristis (Unhappy long-horned bee)
   Melissodes (Melissodes) tepaneca (Tepanec long-horned bee)
   Melissodes (Tachymelissodes) opuntiellus (prickly pear
      long-horned bee)

WJPEG-Melissodes-F-facing-left-NBC-#208-

A female Melissodes tristis, a true long-horned bee of the subgenus Eumelissodes:   Note the bushy scopal hairs on the bee's back legs.

Melissodes tepaneca - (C) Copyright 2018 Ross Eatman

A female Tepanec long-horned bee of the subgenus Melissodes

A male Melissodes tepaneca long-horned bee - (c) Copyright 2018 Paula Sharp

A male Tepanec long-horned bee of the subgenus Melissodes:  note the very long "horns" (antennae) and the yellow clypeus.

Melissodes bimaculatus - two-spotted long-horned bee - (c) Copyright 2019 Paula Sharp

The predominantly black two-spotted long-horned bee (Melissodes bimaculatus) is an example of the subgenus Melissodes.

Melissodes opuntiellus long-horned bee - (c) Copyright 2019 Paula Sharp

A male Melissodes opuntiellus of the subgenus Tachymelissodes

Long-horned Bee Species of the National Butterfly Center

Tepanec Long-horned Bee
Melissodes (Melissodes) tepaneca

Family:  Apidae

Size:  11 mm (male); 12 mm (female)

Food plants at NBC:  


Retama (a kind of Palo Verde)

(Parkinsonia aculeata)
Plant family:  Fabaceae


Pigeonberry

(Duranta erecta)
Plant family:  Verbenaceae

Common sunflower
(Helianthus annuus)
Plant Family:  Asteraceae

 

When seen:

September 2018
April & July 2019

Detailed Photographs: 

Female bee

Male bee

Tepanec long-horned bee - Melissodes tepaneca; Copyright 2018 Ross Eatman

A female Tepanec long-horned bee

Male Melissodes tepaneca long-horned bee - (c) Copyright 2018 Paula Sharp

A male Tepanec long-horned bee 

Melissodes opuntiellus Long-horned Bee
Melissodes (Tachymelissodes) opuntiellus

Family:  Apidae

Size:  8 mm (female and male)

Associated plants at NBC:  


Red prickly poppy

(Argemone sanguinea)
Plant family:  Papaveraceae


Texas prickly pear

(Opuntia engelmanii)
Plant family:  Cactaceae

Tea bush

(Melochia tomentosa)
Plant family:  Malvaceae (formerly Sterculiaceae)

When seen:  March-April 2019  

Melissodes opuntiellus long-horned bee (Melissodes opuntiella)- (c) Copyright 2019 Paula Sharp

A male Melissodes opuntiellus long-horned bee

Melissdes opuntiellus long-horned bee  (Melissodes opuntiella) - (c) Copyright 2019 Paula Sharp

A female Melissodes opuntiellus long-horned bee

A note on the Melissodes opuntiellus long-horned bee:  The species name "opuntiellus" is a reference to Opuntia, the scientific name for prickly pear cactus.  The Latin suffix "ellus" is a diminutive ending.  Thus this bee's name might translate as "the little prickly pear bee".  In April, male Melissodes opuntiella long-horned bees appear in large numbers on the flowers of Texas prickly pear cactus (Opuntia englemannii), at the NBC and in surrounding areas. 

This species was first described by the entomologist T. D. A. Cockerell in 1911, in a one page article  titled "Some New Bees from Flowers of Cactaceae," shown below left, which appeared in Volume 35 of The Canadian Entomologist.

Prickly poppies in the Lower Rio Grand Valley begin flowering just before the bloom period of Texas prickly pear cactus.  Male Melissodes opuntiellus long-horned bee appear on prickly poppy (Argemone sanguinea) in mid-March at the NBC. 

We have noted that various genera of male bees that feed on prickly pear flowers (including Lithugopsis and Diadasia)  appear to use prickly poppies in the spring for shelter, without feeding on them.  (Male bees drink nectar but do not gather pollen; prickly poppies produce pollen but very little nectar.) Possibly, the bees choose the poppies to rest in because they are comfortable and roomy and provide protection from wind and rain.

Females of this species have been documented on an array of plants including mallows and palo verde.  In 1980, during a survey of sunflower pollinators, entomologists Hurd and LaBerge observed this species foraging on sunflowers.  At NBC, female bees have appeared on prickly poppies, prickly pear cactus and teabush.

Unhappy Long-horned Bee
Melissodes (Eumelissodes) tristis

Family:  Apidae

Size:  11 mm  (female)

Associated plant at NBC:  
Shrubby blue sage

(Salvia ballotiflora)

Plant family:   Lamiaceae

When seen:   April 2019  

Melissodes tristis long-horned bee - (c) Copyright 2019 Paula Sharp

A female Melissodes tristis long-horned bee 

Melissodes tristis long-horned bee - (c) Copyright 2019 Paula Sharp

A female Melissodes tristis long-horned bee 

Permissions and Copyright Information:   All images on this site are (c) Copyright 2018-2019 Paula Sharp and Ross Eatman.  All rights reserved. All photographs are protected by registered copyright.  Please contact Sharp-Eatman Nature Photography for written permission before using any of these images for any purpose. 

Last updated November 2019

 1-15-19