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Do Bees Have Teeth? (Bee Mandibles)

Have you ever wondered what a bee’s mouth looks like? 

Bees do have teeth, in a sense. Bees don’t have teeth in their mouths like humans or other mammals. Instead, they have mandibles (their jaw), which they use for almost everything. On these mandibles, they have tiny teeth.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the bee’s mandibles and how they use their mandibles to hold prey, dig into flowers, collect pollen, and cut wax cells in the hive.

Bee Teeth (Mandibles)

The mandibles are a bee’s most important tool. They use their mandibles for almost all tasks, such as foraging, collecting pollen, digging into flowers, building their hive or hold, pinching, and moving objects.

These powerful mouthparts are attached to the maxillae, connected to the labium at their base—the labial palps from the submentum, where the mandibles attach.

Bees have a pair of maxillae, which are located on either side of the mouth. It means that their mandibles are situated in between these two maxillae, just at the bottom of the head, near the base of their tongue.

Said in other words: Bees have a set of mandibles, split into two parts. The mandibles are located on their jaws.

bee mandible close up

Where Are Their Teeth Located?

A bee’s teeth are located on the mandibles, making them look like little saws. These teeth can both be rounded or sharp. Bees have two mandibles that they use to catch pollen and nectar, chew through wood, or defend themselves.

What Do Bee Mandibles Look Like? 

The bees’ mandibles are located at the front of their face, on both sides of their mouth.

They can range in size but are always curved. It allows the bee to both hold and crush things since bees have incredibly strong jaws (relative to their size).          

If you were to look closely at a bee’s mandible, you would discover that it has teeth and that the teeth aren’t flat. Instead, they are pretty small and pointy. Thus, allowing them to puncture through both hard exoskeletons of insects and soft bodies of flowers.

This also gives the mandibles their iconic jagged looks.

The curved nature of the bee’s mandibles will also enable it to efficiently cut through pollen stalks.

bee curving mandibles on flight

Do All Bees Have Teeth?

Yes, all bees have some form of teeth. While certain bees have mandibles with many sharp teeth, other bees may have fewer teeth, or teeth that are more rounded. 

This all depends on the nature of the species. Aggressive bees may have evolved into having sharp teeth, which they can use for crushing their prey.

How Bees Use Their Toothed Mandibles

Bees use their toothed mandibles for several different needs and activities throughout their life. Let’s take a closer look at how it works:

1. Feeding the Brood

Bees use their mandibles to feed the brood (the baby bees). Since small larvae and pupae can’t feed themselves, they need the help of worker bees. This is one of the many responsibilities worker bees have.

When a worker bee finds some honey or nectar, she uses her mandibles to chew the liquid into a manageable size and then goes back to the beehive to feed it to her larvae. 

This is how bees are fed in their earliest stages of life.

bee feeding the brood

2. Building Combs

When a worker bee is ready to lay eggs, she will use her mandibles to chew wax from the beehive walls. She uses this wax to form structures called combs, where the eggs are laid, where they can develop into larvae. 

Later on, cells are made for the new larvae to develop into adult honeybees. 

The worker bee also uses her mandibles to chew a substance called propolis, which she uses as glue for the combs and as a sort of sterilizing agent that wards off bacteria from developing in these tight quarters.

honey bees on honeycomb

3. Carrying

One of the primary uses of the mandibles is carrying objects, both small and large. To carry an item, a bee will lift it with its mandibles and keep it steady with its legs while it walks. 

giant honey bee

4. Collecting Nectar & Pollen

To collect pollen and nectar, bees may have to cut into the flower or stem. 

When pollen is collected, it often gets stuck to the bee’s furry body parts like legs and antennae. 

The bees will transport these pollen grains to bring them back to the hive, where they can then be stored or used for feeding.

honey bee full of pollen on body

5. Collecting Resin

Bees collect resins for different purposes. The most well-known definition of resin collection is propolis production, but bees also use resins to line their nests and create honey pots, among other things.

Bees use their mandibles to get a hold of the resin.

miner bee

6. Biting & Fighting

Bees use their mandibles to bite and fight when they feel threatened, such as when someone tries to remove them from their hive or encroaches on their territory. 

The bee’s mandibles are strong and hold a lot of force. Because of its jagged nature, it’ll easily puncture human skin too. 

In addition, their teeth and mandibles work like barbs, which causes the bee’s jaws to stay attached after biting.

carpenter bee

7. Grooming & Cleaning Their Hive

Tiny hairs protrude between their six legs that pick up pollen from the flower they recently flew out from. 

When coming back to the hive, these bee legs get covered in a mixture of honey and nectar that sometimes sticks to bee mandibles (mouthparts). 

That’s why workers spend a large part of their day grooming themselves. They use their strong jaws and tongues to comb through every hair on their body.

bee grooming itself

8. Staying Still While Sleeping

To save energy and reduce the build-up of toxic lactic acid, honeybees use their mandibles to stay perfectly still while they sleep. 

This technique also increases their chances of survival by reducing the movement that attracts predators. 

When placed on their back, honeybees will use their mandibles to stay still until they wake up. 

On average, bees spend 40% of their lives asleep.

bee mandible close up 2

Do Bees Bite?

Do bees bite? Of course, they do. Honeybees can also sting, a process that injects venom to kill or paralyze other insects and arthropods that threaten the hive. 

The honeybee’s stinger has barbs that keep it from being removed from human skin after an attack. 

In this case, bees will continue administering their venom until the threat is neutralized or they die.

Related: Do bees bite?

Can Bee Bites Kill You?

A bee’s bite can cause a few allergic reactions, but it won’t kill you (in most cases). You may experience redness or warmth in the affected area, as well as itchiness afterwards.

If you’re extremely allergic, you can die due to a bee sting. A total of 1109 people have died from getting stung by a bee, hornet, or wasp. [1]

bee stinger

Conclusion

To summarize, bees have teeth, but they’re not located in the mouth. Instead, they’re located on the mandibles, a set of pincers located at the jaw of the bee. This gives the mandibles their jagged looks.

These teeth can be very sharp, but can only be rounded – it depends on a number of things such as species, how much they’ve been used, among other things.

Bees use their toothed mandibles for almost anything, from caring for their younglings to gathering nectar. The mandibles are very strong, both in terms of bite force and the weight they can carry.

They can also use their teeth to bite you, which can puncture your skin.

Related: Bee Anatomy

About Teodoro Pittman

Teodoro is a nature and animal lover. He specifically focuses on insects, such as ants, bees, and the like. In his free time, he takes care of his own ant farm, where he analyzes their behavior. Teodoro has spent the last 7 years studying the intricate behavior of these small creatures.