Date: 19th April 2020
Do bees have teeth?
The short answer is:
Yes....and no! In a sense bees do indeed have teeth on their mandibles (jaws), although they are not 'teeth' like those found in the mouths of humans or other mammals. Instead, the mandibles are 'toothed' with narrow or rounded points. However, these 'teeth' are really extensions of the mandibles.
Some bees have very few 'teeth' on their mandibles, whereas other species have more teeth present on the mandibles.
Now for more detail.....
Here is a very nice little quote from the book The Bees In Your Backyard by Wilson and Messinger-Carril:
"At the tip of the mandibles (the end farthest from the connection to the face) are a number of teeth. Some bees have very simple mandibles with few teeth, whereas others have many teeth that may be pointed or rounded".
The mandibles (jaws) look like small pincers and they are at the front of the face. Below is a photograph of the mandibles of a Megachile species of bee.
See how the mandibles are 'toothed' - note the pointed, jagged 'teeth' along the edges.
Still not convinced?
It may seem strange to think of bees having teeth, but this is largely because when we think of teeth, we picture the teeth in a human or perhaps a dog or horse. Or maybe even a shark or crocodile....
This brings us to the key question....
Of course, the word 'teeth' is merely the plural of 'tooth'. For humans (and other animals), teeth are hard, enamel-coated structures in the jaws, and they are used for biting and chewing.
However, the word 'tooth' can be applied to other living organisms (as well as objects, such as hand tools or a hair comb). Thus, one of the broader biological definitions of 'tooth' given by Oxford University Press is as follows:
"a projecting part on an animal or plant, especially one of a jagged or dentate row on the margin of a leaf or shell".
In a sense, the mandibles and toothed edges perform much the same function as they do for teeth in the jaws of animals.
Different bee species have slightly different mandibles. In fact, even with a genus (type), the mandibles are not the same. For example, it has been found that mite-biting honey bees that can successfully deal with Varroa mite, have slightly different mandibles from other honey bees.
So in short, bees have teeth - or toothed-mandibles. These teeth are used in the same way that other creatures may use their teeth, which includes chewing and biting for a variety of different reasons.