Insects Planet

Do Caterpillars Really Have Teeth?

Have you ever wondered if caterpillars had teeth? after all, these little insects spend most of their time munching on leaves, so it stands to reason that they must have some kind of mouth apparatus for doing so right!

Yes, caterpillars do have teeth in a traditional sense! In fact, they have a series of tiny, razor-sharp “like teeth” lining the inner margins of their jaw. These teeth are located on the outer edge of the labium and are used for cutting through tough leaves and stalks.

However, these teeth are not like your typical molars or incisors. Rather, they are more like tiny blades that the caterpillar uses to slice its food (leaves) into small pieces before swallowing.

To go into more detail and give you a better idea of how these “teeth” work, let’s take a closer look at a caterpillar’s mouth structure below!

Caterpillars Mouth Structure

In general, we think of caterpillars as eating machines. They’re voracious eaters that can munch their way through garden plants in no time flat. But have you ever wondered how they’re able to do that? Part of the answer lies in the caterpillar’s mouth structure.

A caterpillar’s mouth is made up of five main parts: the labrum (upper lip), mandibles (paired jaws), maxilla (Teeth), Labium (lower lip), and Hypopharynx (tongue).

  • Labrum: The labrum is attached to the base of the mandibles and covers the upper part of the caterpillar’s mouth, located on the midline! This tough, horny structure holds and guides the food into the caterpillar’s mouth during chewing.
  • Mandibles: Insects that chew have two mandibles (jaws) that are located on each side of its head. These are the largest part of the insect’s mouth and are used for crushing and chewing food.
  • Maxilla: The maxillae have hairs and “teeth” along their inner margins which are located on the outer edge of the labium. These mouthparts are used for cutting the leaves during mastication. There they also have sensory palps that they use to search for food.
  • Labium: The labium is a single structure of two-fused secondary maxillae which is basically the bottom part of the caterpillar’s mouth! This opens and closes functioning like a pair of lips, while at the same time acting as a protective barrier.
  • Hypopharynx: The hypopharynx is an elongated, fleshy tube that arises from the base of the labium (the lower lip). This tube is lined with tiny bristles that help sweep food into the esophagus (throat).

So there you have it, caterpillars definitely have teeth (albeit tiny ones)! and they are hard to see with the naked eye. However, they are there and they can easily cut through leaves with very little effort.

Related Article:

Can Caterpillars Lose Or Regrow Teeth?

Although caterpillars have tiny razors for teeth there is no evidence to support that they can lose or replace them. Caterpillars go through a process called metamorphosis in order to turn into butterflies or moths.

During this process, they do not appear to lose their teeth or replace them in any way. So it is safe to say that once a caterpillar has its teeth, it will have them for the rest of its life.

Do Caterpillars Have Teeth When They Hatch?

From the moment they hatch, caterpillars are voracious eaters. In fact, their primary purpose in life is to consume enough food to fuel their transformation into a butterfly or moths.

Even their hatchlings can eat their way through leaves, flowers, and even fruit in a matter of hours! So, do caterpillars have teeth when they hatch? The answer is yes!

Caterpillars are born with all the mouthparts they need to start eating immediately. Like, the adults, they can cut through leaves and other vegetation However the hatching will eat at a much slower rate!

Can They Bite?

Absolutely, if the caterpillar feels threatened in anyway, shape, or form it will bite. Although it can be very effective with their predators, to us humans we wouldn’t feel much!

However, it’s not the bite that you should be worried about “but” contact with the skin! 

Some caterpillars can be poisonous and if you come into contact or handle one, their tiny hairs can cause skin irritation, rashes, and in some cases allergic reactions.

Some caterpillars can even cause inflammation and swelling. Although these symptoms are extremely rare it’s probably a good idea to just leave it alone, or at the very least wear gloves!


So there you have it, the truth about caterpillars and whether or not they have teeth! Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of these insects and their mouth structures. So the next time you see one, take a moment to appreciate it!

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