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This article is about the mouth part. For the butterfly genus, see Proboscis (genus). For the monkey, see Proboscis Monkey. For anomaly of the human nose, see Proboscis (anomaly).
Butterflies have two antennae, two compound eyes, and a proboscis.
A syrphid fly using its proboscis to reach the nectar of a flower
Everted proboscis of a polychaete (Phyllodoce lineata)

A proboscis /prˈbɒsɪs/ is an elongated appendage from the head of an animal, either a vertebrate or an invertebrate. In invertebrates, the term usually refers to tubular mouthparts used for feeding and sucking. In vertebrates, the term is used to describe an elongated nose or snout.


First attested in English in 1609 from Latin proboscis, the latinisation of the Greek προβοσκίς (proboskis),[1] which comes from πρό (pro) "forth, forward, before"[2] + βόσκω (bosko), "to feed, to nourish".[3][4] The plural as derived from the Greek is proboscides, but in English the plural form proboscises occurs frequently.


The most common usage is to refer to the tubular feeding and sucking organ of certain invertebrates such as insects (e.g., moths and butterflies), worms (including Acanthocephala, proboscis worms) and gastropod molluscs.


Scanning electron microscopy of proboscis of an Acanthocephala [5]

The Acanthocephala or thorny-headed worms, or spiny-headed worms are characterized by the presence of an eversible proboscis, armed with spines, which it uses to pierce and hold the gut wall of its host.

Lepidoptera mouth parts[edit]

The mouth parts of Lepidoptera mainly consist of the sucking kind; this part is known as the proboscis or 'haustellum'. The proboscis consists of two tubes held together by hooks and separable for cleaning. The proboscis contains muscles for operating. Each tube is inwardly concave, thus forming a central tube up which moisture is sucked. Suction takes place due to the contraction and expansion of a sac in the head.[6]

A few Lepidoptera species lack mouth parts and therefore do not feed in the imago. Others, such as the family Micropterigidae, have mouth parts of the chewing kind.[7]

The study of insect mouthparts was helpful for the understanding of the functional mechanism of the proboscis of butterflies (Lepidoptera) to elucidate the evolution of new form-function.[8][9] The study of the proboscis of butterflies revealed surprising examples of adaptations to different kinds of fluid food, like nectar, plant sap, tree sap, dung for example[10][11][12] and of adaptations to the use of pollen as complementary food at a genus of neotropic butterflies.[13][14] An extreme long proboscis appears within different groups of flower visiting insects, but is relatively rare.


Proboscis of a predatory marine snail Mitra mitra.
Kelletia kelletii are feeding on a dead fish using a long, prehensile proboscis.


The elephant's trunk and the tapir's elongated nose are called "proboscis", as is the snout of the male elephant seal.

The proboscis monkey is named for its enormous nose.

An abnormal facial appendage that sometimes accompanies ocular and nasal abnormalities in humans is also called a proboscis.

Notable mammals with some form of proboscis are:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ προβοσκίς, Henry George Liddell, Robert S, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  2. ^ πρό, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  3. ^ βόσκω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  4. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 2012-07-30. 
  5. ^ Amin, O. A, Heckmann, R. A & Ha, N. V. (2014) Acanthocephalans from fishes and amphibians in Vietnam, with descriptions of five new species. Parasite, 21, 53 doi:10.1051/parasite/2014052PubMed open access publication - free to read
  6. ^ Evans, Identification of Indian Butterflies, Introduction, pp 1 to 35.
  7. ^ Charles A. Triplehorn and Norman F. Johnson (2005). Borror and Delong's Introduction to the Study of Insects (7th edition). Thomson Brooks/Cole, Belmont, CA. ISBN 0-03-096835-6
  8. ^ Krenn HW, Kristensen NP (2000) Early evolution of the proboscis of Lepidoptera: external morphology of the galea in basal glossatan moths, with remarks on the origin of the pilifers. Zoologischer Anzeiger 239: 179-196
  9. ^ Krenn HW, Kristensen NP (2004) Evolution of proboscis musculature in Lepidoptera. European Journal of Entomology 101: 565-575
  10. ^ Krenn HW, Zulka KP, Gatschnegg T (2001) Proboscis morphology and food preferences in Nymphalidae (Lepidoptera, Papilionoidea). Journal of Zoology, London 253, 17-26
  11. ^ Knopp MCN, Krenn HW (2003) Efficiency of fruit juice feeding in Morpho peleides (Nymphalidae, Lepidoptera). Journal of Insect Behavior 16: 67-77
  12. ^ Krenn HW (2010) Feeding mechanisms of adult Lepidoptera: structure, function, and evolution of the mouthparts. Annual Review of Entomology 55: 307-327
  13. ^ Krenn HW, MJB Eberhard, SH Eberhard, A-L Hikl, W Huber & LE Gilbert (2009) Mechanical damage to pollen aids nutrient acquisition in Heliconius butterflies (Nymphalidae) Arthropod-Plant Interactions 3/4: 203-208
  14. ^ Hikl A-L, Krenn HW (2011) Pollen processing behaviour of Heliconius butterflies: A derived grooming behaviour. Journal of Insect Science 11, Article 95, available online: