Feeding mechanisms of adult Lepidoptera: structure, function, and evolution of the mouthparts

Annu Rev Entomol. 2010;55:307-27. doi: 10.1146/annurev-ento-112408-085338.


The form and function of the mouthparts in adult Lepidoptera and their feeding behavior are reviewed from evolutionary and ecological points of view. The formation of the suctorial proboscis encompasses a fluid-tight food tube, special linking structures, modified sensory equipment, and novel intrinsic musculature. The evolution of these functionally important traits can be reconstructed within the Lepidoptera. The proboscis movements are explained by a hydraulic mechanism for uncoiling, whereas recoiling is governed by the intrinsic proboscis musculature and the cuticular elasticity. Fluid uptake is accomplished by the action of the cranial sucking pump, which enables uptake of a wide range of fluid quantities from different food sources. Nectar-feeding species exhibit stereotypical proboscis movements during flower handling. Behavioral modifications and derived proboscis morphology are often associated with specialized feeding preferences or an obligatory switch to alternative food sources.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Flowers
  • Lepidoptera / anatomy & histology
  • Lepidoptera / physiology*
  • Mouth / anatomy & histology
  • Mouth / physiology