This study surveys the external morphology of the mouthparts in the guild of spore-feeders among the coleopterous superfamily Staphylinoidea, evaluating the influence of different phylogenetic and ecological starting points on the formation of their mouthparts. Our emphasis is on a scanning electron microscope analysis (SEM) of the involved trophic structures in spore-feeding larvae and adults of the Ptiliidae, Leiodidae and Staphylinidae, describing the fine structure of their main functional elements. Functionally, mouthpart structures resemble brushes, brooms, combs, rakes, rasps, excavators, knives, thorns, cram-brushes, bristle troughs, blocks and differently structured grinding surfaces. Their different involvement in the various aspects of the feeding process (i.e. food gathering, transporting, channelling and grinding) is deduced from our SEM analyses plus direct video observations. We infer five different patterns of food transport and processing, discriminating adults of ptiliids, leiodids plus staphylinids (excluding some aleocharines), several aleocharine staphylinids, and the larvae of leiodids and staphylinids. The structural diversity of the mouthparts increases in the order from (1) Ptiliidae, (2) Leiodidae towards (3) Staphylinidae, reflecting the increasing systematic and ecological diversity of these groups. Comparisons with non-spore-feeders show that among major lineages of staphylinoids, shifts from general microphagy to sporophagy are not necessarily constrained by, nor strongly reflected in, mouthpart morphology. Nevertheless, in several of these lineages the organs of food intake and grinding have experienced particular fine-structural modifications, which have undergone convergent evolution, probably in response to specialized mycophagy such as spore-feeding. These modifications involve advanced galeal rakes, galeal or lacinial ‘spore brushes’ with arrays of stout bristles, reinforced obliquely ventrad orientated prosthecal lobes and the differentiations of the molar grinding surfaces into stout teeth or tubercles. In addition, several staphylinids of the tachyporine and oxyteline groups with reduced mandibular molae have evolved secondary trituration surfaces, which in some aleocharines are paralleled by considerable re-constructions of the labium–hypopharynx.