This is a moth proboscis, used to suck up nectar and other liquids. The green structures in this colour enhanced image are called sensilla and are the moth’s taste buds. Each sensilla is about 38 micrometres long. Scanning electron microscopy by Darren Brown, University of Queensland


The mouth of a blowfly

Blowflies are of incredible importance to forensic science. With their keen ability to smell a dead animal from over a mile away, they are usually the first insects to come into contact with decaying bodies, usually within minutes of death. Females lay eggs in dying tissue, which develop in a predictable pattern based on temperature and weather that can be used to determine time and place of death. Recent research is uncovering how the development of blowfly larvae change depending on the chemicals and drugs present in a victim’s system, revealing clues for a more accurate time and cause of death.

Image by Michael Gibson.



1. the trunk of an elephant.

2. any long flexible snout, as of the tapir.

3. also called beak - the elongate, protruding mouth parts of certain insects, adapted for sucking or piercing.

4. any of various elongate feeding, defensive, or sensory organs of the oral region, as in certain leeches and worms.

5. Facetious: the human nose, especially when unusually long or prominent.

Etymology: via Latin, from Greek proboskís, “elephant’s trunk, literally, feeder”, from boskein, “to feed”.

[René Magritte - Philosopher S Lamp]

So, you’ve come across a bumble bee on the ground. It’s moving lethargically, or not at all (a small, very gentle poke will determine if she’s dead or not). So how do you save her, and make sure she lives to pollinate another day?

First of all, make sure you get her off the ground. I used an index card, but any old piece of paper will do! Next, in a spoon, mix some warm water with sugar, making sure it dissolves a little bit. Put the water near the bees mouth, or, if you screw up like I did, spill a bit on the paper in front of them. She will hopefully use her proboscis and start drinking it up! After she drinks her fill, she will hopefully perk up a bit. At this point, take her outside and plop her on a flower. She will hopefully recover here and fly back to join her sisters in the hive for the night!

And that is how you help save a bee! This little lady is doing well, and will hopefully keep doing her part in making the flowers bloom! This has been a PSA from your local bees rights activist 🐝


The anatomy of the proboscis of the South American Tapir (Tapirus terrestris); the third figure has a horse (Equus caballus) for comparison.

Witmer, L. et al. (1999) The proboscis of tapirs (Mammalia: Perissodactyla): a case study in novel narial anatomy. J. Zool. Lond. 249, 249–267.

I recently wrote an article on the re-definition of the terms “trunk”, “proboscis” and “prorhiscis”. In short, “trunks” no longer refer to facial protrusions, “proboscides” are appendages used to eat (in elephants, tapirs), and “prorhiscides” are other big noses used for various purposes.