Day 12: Mouthparts

The Twelve Days of Honey Bees, Day 12. A honey bee worker has 12 (or so) mouth parts.

Bees in general have rather complex mouthparts to access the inner rewards found in flowers with all sorts of configurations. Since we not mentioned the honey bee proboscis (tongue) or mandibles yet, this seems like a good place to do so. These higher numbers are a real challenge, but the parts a honey bee’s mouth is a useful way to finish our honey bee days. Another option for 12 was honey bee pheromones, although there are actually more than 12 of these.

You may know that a honey bee has two mandibles and one proboscis. If we delve into the individual parts of these mouthparts we can readily get to our target of 12 items. The following diagram from the Museum of the Earth shows twelve parts, which we explain below.

Let’s walk through these individually as we did for Day 11.

  1. mandible: most animals have a single up-and-down mandible, as in our jaw. Bees have two marvelous mandibles that move side to side, allowing them to bite or latch on to obstacles and other insects, as well as molding wax and making comb.
  2. labium: the inner portion of the proboscis, including the submentum, mentum, prementum, glossa, and a long labial palpus on each side.
  3. submentum (lorum): the base of the proboscis.
  4. mentum: the next part of the proboscis. The submentum, mentum, and prementum allow the glossa to extend.
  5. prementum: connects the gloss to the mentum.
  6. labial palpus: used to feel and taste, when the bee is ready to suck up nectar or water, the labial palpus forms straw-like tube around the glass.
  7. glossa: a hairy extension that can pull nectar towards the mouth.
  8. maxilla: an outer sheath of the proboscis that surrounds the labium, consisting of the cardo, stipes, maxillary palpus, and galea.
  9. cardo: a hinged segment that allows the proboscis to extend.
  10. stipes: a hinged segment that protects the prementum as it extends.
  11. maxillary palpus: small sensory sections on the maxilla that help the bee feel and taste.
  12. galea: covering that works with the labial palpus to form a tube while taking in nectar or water.

This chart conveniently has 12 parts on it. For a detailed discussion on honey bee mouth parts, see the article getting to know bee mouthparts.

Front view of one of my worker bees on January 31, 2016. While the mouthparts are not very visible, it does show the bee’s face. Also interesting that this bee found so much pollen in the midst of our Virginia winter.

I hope you have enjoyed the 12 days of honey bees. It was quite a learning experience for me to put it together.

May you prosper and find honey.

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