Filtering mechanism of the honey bee proventriculus


Department of Entomology, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, U.S.A.


ABSTRACT. The fine structure and function of a honey bee's (Apis mellifera Linn.) proventriculus were studied by scanning electron microscopy and video-recording. Our observations revealed that the proventriculus is used to engulf pollen and other particles which contaminate the nectar carried into the crop. The four lips are closed and opened, pulled backwards and straightened by the external circular muscles and internal longitudinal muscles. Combs of filiform-hairs (70 μm in length) located on the margins of the lips ‘catch’ and filter particles from the fluid. By repeated filtering, opening and closing actions of the hairs and lips, particles are filtered and collected in pouches between the ventricular folds to form boluses and are eventually passed into the midgut. In the present experiment, particle sizes ranging from 0.5 to 100 μm in diameter, including dandelion pollen (Taraxacum officinale Web.), Torula yeast (Candida utilis Lodder et Kreger-Van Rij), bee disease spores of Nosema apis Zander and Bacillus larvae White, and man-made particles can be filtered by the hairs. Small particles (0.23 μm in diameter) filter through the hair and return back to the fluid. Large particles (100–200 μm in diameter) are caught between the stylets of the mouthparts and are not ingested. These observations suggest that the particle size plays an important role in determining what can be taken by the mouthparts and the proventriculus and what can later be utilized as a food source by the bee. The role of the proventriculus in disease transmission is also discussed.