Proboscis of a moth

Butterflies and moths have a very tight evolutionary relationship with the flowers on which they feed. They feed with a long, coiled, straw-like mouthpart called a proboscis. Because flowers come in all different shapes and sizes, butterflies and moths need to evolve mouthparts that can reach the nectar inside different flowers. In fact, Charles Drawin once examined a flower with a nectary hidden nearly 12 inches inside the plant and predicted a moth must exist with an equally long proboscis to feed on that flower. The existence of such a moth was discovered 40 years later.

Image by Dr. Igor Siwanowicz, HHMI Janelia Farm Research Campus.

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]


Ribbon Worm

In the video, a worms seems to pause before suddenly ejecting what looks like thick white mucus. Strands branch out immediately, like Spiderman’s webs, and snake outwards across the person’s hand. Afterwards, the worm carries on wriggling in its intended direction, over the white goo.

There is much speculation about what the video really shows, but the person who posted it claims it’s a species of marine ribbon worn, which when threatened, explodes a proboscis from its mouth to attack prey. (Source)


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.