The Weird World Of Bee Tongues

Excerpted from: Our Native Bees, By Paige Embry

Bee Mouth Parts Graphic

To talk of bee tongues is to vastly oversimply the complex apparatus that makes up bee mouthparts. Bees have a ‘glossa,’ which is the closest mouthpart they have to a true tongue. They also have ‘labial palps’ that run next to the glossa and are used for tasting.

These together with other mouthparts make up the bee’s ‘proboscis.’ Many of these parts are pointed so that they can be folded up.

Some bees are long-tongue bees and others are short-tongue bees, but it has to do with the labial palps rather than the glossa length. This leads to the confusing truth that some short-tongue bees have a long glossa and so could be considered long-tongued, short-tongue bees.

The cool thing about bee mouthparts is that the ones with long tongues fold them away under their body when they aren’t in use. When needed, they can unfold the pieces and join them together to make a straw for sucking up nectar. Short-tongue bees don’t make the same kind of straw and may lap rather than suck up nectar.

Short Tongue Bee

Andrena nivalis with a short tongue.

Long Tongue Bee

Anthophora affabilis with a long tongue.

Further Information:

 Wisconsin Bee Identification Guide
 Spring Wild Bees of Wisconsin
 Bumble Bees of Wisconsin
 Wild Native Bee Nest Boxes

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