Do Bees Have Teeth?

Bees don’t have teeth like humans and other animals. Instead, they have a body part that helps them bite and crush called mandibles.

The mandibles are the attachments on the bee’s head located at both sides of the mouth. They extend from the head surrounded by a membrane and are firmly supported by articulations.

close up of the head of a honey bee and its mandibles.

Although bees’ mandibles have an in-and-out movement primarily, they are not completely stiff. Its articulations also allow a small range of forward and backward movement enough for the tip of one mandible to slide past the other one.

Each mandible is powered by two sets of muscles within the head. The extensor muscle pulls on the outer edge of the mandibles’ base, and the flexor muscle pulls on the inner one. Out of the two muscles, the flexor, or closing muscle, is the strongest due to most of the mandible’s workload falling on it.

Workers Have Different Mandibles From Drones And The Queen

Honeybees’ mandibles are different in size and shape depending on their role in their colony. Drones, for instance, have smaller jaws than the female bees in the colony. Similar to the jaws of queen bees, drones’ mandibles are toothed or serrated, especially towards the cutting edges or tips.

This doesn’t necessarily indicate that queens and drones’ mandibles have a particular purpose that calls for the jagged edge. Quite the opposite, having a toothed mandible is common in most insects, indicating shows their mandibles don’t need any special adaptions like worker bees’ do.

What do drones use their mandibles for?

Well, after breaking out of their brood cell by biting the wax cap, they don’t have many other uses. Drones are fed almost entirely by worker bees, and their role in the colony is basically just reproducing with the queen.

The queen has the largest mandibles in proportion to the size of the head. Although she is also fed by workers, she does need those sharp and jagged jaws to bite the thick cap of the queen cell when she’s ready to emerge. Also, when a new queen is born, she goes into the other queen cells present and kills them before they come out, ensuring she’s the only queen in charge of the colony.

Not surprisingly, the mandibles of worker bees are the most specialized out of the three castes and differ in both shape and size. While the jaws found in drones and queen bees that serrated edge like other insects, worker bees’ look more like a spoon or bowl without the toothed borders. Their mandibles are wide at the base, narrow in the middle, and wide again towards the end. The outermost part has a concave shape on the mandible’s inner side and is surrounded by slightly curved hairs.

Close-up photo of the face of a worker honey bee and her spoon-like mandibles or jaws.
Photo by Marcus Roeske on Unsplash

The Many Uses Of A Worker Bee’s Jaws

Why are worker bees’ ‘teeth’ so different?

As famous multitaskers, their unique jaws help worker bees perform their long list of duties. Like drones and queen bees, they use the mandibles to cut through the wax of their cell cap to emerge. The concave points make their mandibles exceptionally good at cutting wax.  When they make wax to build comb and cap cells with brood and honey, the spoon-like mandibles help shape and sculpt the wax.

Worker bees ensure the colony is clean and free of disease by scraping the dead brood and debris from comb cells. Worker bees fly around flowers collecting nectar and pollen as the main food collectors in the colony. The mandibles help them bite and eat pollen and support the proboscis when they absorb liquids.

Do Bees Have Teeth On Their Wings?

Not really.

They have a series of teeth-looking structures located on the edge of the hind wings. But they’re not teeth for the purpose we know them for, like biting and chewing. These structures are known as hamuli or wing hooks. When they fly, the hamuli help the fore and the hind wings to stick together, creating a larger surface that generates lift. 

Can Bees Bite?

The short answer is yes. Honeybees can bite, but they use this to defend themselves against small threats. Do they use their bite against humans? They can, but it’s not effective against big mammals with thick skin like us. Its more commonly used to paralyze parasites and pests.

Here’s an article I wrote that goes into more detail.

Final Thoughts

Honeybees don’t have teeth as humans do. Instead, they use their mandibles to bite and chew. The mandibles are located on both sides of the mouth. Depending on their caste, their jaws will vary in shape and size.

Worker bees have the most specialized structure. The mandibles help them deliver several tasks, including chewing and molding wax, opening capped cells, and supporting the proboscis when they feed on liquids. In contrast, the queen and drone’s jaws are different and have toothed edges like most insects.

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