Most bumble bees, except for the young queens, have only a few weeks left to live, but until a killing frost arrives, they will be gathering pollen and nectar for themselves and their colony. The various mouth parts that enable them to collect food are hidden behind the large lip that you see when you face a bumble bee head on.
Behind this lip, there are multiple structures that are adapted to grasp, shape and collect food. These include jaws, or mandibles, which clasp pollen and wax used to form cells for eggs. Under the mandibles are two long sheaths that also grasp and shape food called maxillae. Two labial palps located under the maxillae serve as taste sensors. Both of these structures, the maxillae and palps, form a horny sheath which protects the bee’s tongue.
Nectar is accessed with a proboscis which is basically a tube that is protected by the mandible, maxillae and labial palps. A tongue-like structure called a glossa protrudes from the proboscis. Its hairy tip is well suited for collecting nectar.
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