Insects are amazing creatures and they make up a very diverse group even within the bee family. They come in every shape and size and vary in diet and lifestyle. The following question may be a throw back to those pesty insects that take a bite of out of my vegetable plants. But, do bees have teeth?
Bee Teeth and Mandibles
How can these remarkable insects carry out all the tasks of bee life? Well. bees do have teeth – of a sort. They have body parts that function as teeth – their mandibles.
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Now of course, they look very different than the pearly whites of humans. And, bees don’t have to carry around a toothbrush or visit the dentist. Lucky bees.
The mandibles are found in the head section of insects. To outward appearances, we would call these pincher-like structures jaws. On the end of the mandibles are several ridged formations that protrude upward – they are normally classified as the bee’s teeth.
Most insects have toothed mandibles that are used for biting, chewing and holding food. But they don’t all have the same type of toothed mandibles.
Honey Bee Mandibles
Many living creatures have a moveable jaw. Honeybees however have 2 moveable jaws. In addition to moving up and down in a chewing movement, bee mandibles also move in and out.
When first emerging from their brood cell, mandibles help open the cell and allow release. They are also used to clean cells and remove debris. This prepares it for reuse by the queen bee for egg laying.
In honey bee colonies, the worker bees get the most use out of their toothed mandibles. But, drones (male bees) and queens have them too. Those of the drone are small because they do no real work.
However, the queen bee has large mandibles because of her hive tasks. Not only does she chew her way out of her queen cell, she also must destroy rival queens in thick queen cells.
How Bees Use Their Teeth
You won’t find a bee with a mouthful of teeth but you can find many different types of toothed mandibles. They are used in many ways by a variety of insects.
- nest building
- gathering food
- protecting proboscis
- biting and defense
The wide variety of nesting habits and food sources for bees contributes to the idea the bees must have teeth. Just look at the differences between wasps and honey bees, two closely related insects.
Honey bees build their beehive home by producing sheets of beeswax. Certainly, the thousands of wax cells must be shaped and formed with more than just legs.
Most wasps build paper nests that are grey. They are made of plant materials (bark etc). that is collected by pulling it off a living tree or shrub. Then the material is carried back to the nest site and chewed to make a paper-like pulp using saliva.
The female leafcutter bee has 4 noticeable teeth that are used to cut plant material for their nest. Insects that gather resin use their teeth to scrape the plant secretions off the tree. Female carpenter bees use mandibles and teeth to bore holes in wood and create their homes.
Honey bees use these teeth-like mandibles through out their lives. In the field, workers sometimes need to bite flower parts to access the nectar or pollen. Bumble bees are larger and stronger. They often bite open fruits – such as blueberries – to access the sweet liquid inside.
Wasps and other predator insects use their teeth to kill prey and tear about insects. Unfortunately, this is often honey bees. The diet of the bee or wasp in question plays a role in the type of mouth parts that will have.
The proboscis is a straw like structure that is made up of several mouth parts. It is used to suck up liquid nectar and is a very important part of bee life. But, it is delicate. The mandible of the bee folds over the proboscis when not in use and protects it.
Have you ever been bitten by a bee? In the case of honey bees, they do not bite but they will sting. Most insects that defend themselves against humans use a stinger instead of teeth. But, there are insects that can truly bite.
In insects, the size and number of teeth on the end of the mandibles is related to the task. Sometimes they are rounded but some bees have sharp teeth.
Those that rely on a bite instead of a stinger for defense, have stronger, sharper teeth. This can result in a painful bite for you even from little bee teeth.