The queen bee has 2 major roles in the colony. The first one is to lay eggs. She’ll lay 1,500 eggs per day in the spring. The second is to produce pheromones. Queen bee pheromones are really interesting because they change the physiology and behavior of other bees in her colony.
Pheromones are the way honey bees communicate with each other. These chemical messages are one of the most advanced ways social insects transmit information. But how do bees communicate with pheromones?
What are Queen Bee Pheromones?
Queen bee pheromones are a chemical substance released by the queen. Think of it as her own perfume. The queen’s mandibular pheromone, or QMD, is secreted from her mandibular glands near her jaw.
The queen’s scent sets the tone for the rest of the hive. Any changes in her scent signals that the queen is changing and action should be taken. Queens with a strong scent are assumed to be stronger bees, and therefore have a healthier colony.
As a virgin queen, her pheromones make her attractive to drones for mating. Then, her scent changes. Her pheromones will then stop the worker bee’s ovaries from developing, so she is the only one who can reproduce in her hive.
The queen primarily uses her pheromones to communicate with worker bees. She instructs them to care for her by grooming her, feeding her, and preparing cells for eggs. Queen bee pheromones tell worker bees to feed the brood, forage, clean, and control swarming.
When a queen is unwell or dies, the workers know because her scent fades. Within 24 hours, worker bees will attempt to raise a new queen.
Types of Honey Bee Pheromones
While the queen mandibular pheromone is the strongest in the hive, all honeybees have their own pheromones.
- Alarm Pheromone – The alarm pheromone is released when a bee stings another mammal. It attracts other bees and makes them act aggressively. When beekeepers are working on their hives, they use smoke to mask this pheromone.
- Egg Marking Pheromone – The egg marking pheromone is used by nurse bees to distinguish between eggs that have been laid by the queen and eggs laid by laying workers.
- Brood Recognition Pheromone – Brood recognition pheromone is emitted by larvae and pupae, telling worker bees that the colony has developing young and distinguishing worker larvae from drone larvae. It also inhibits ovary development in worker bees.
- Forager Pheromone – The forager pheromone is used to regulate the amount of nurse bees in the hive, keeping a healthy ratio of forager bees to nurse bees.
- Footprint Pheromone – When honey bees walk, they leave a footprint pheromone. It helps bees find their way when searching for nectar.
- Drone Pheromone – The drone pheromone attracts other drones to areas with virgin queens.
- Nasonov Pheromone – The nasonov pheromone is released by worker bees so foragers can find their way back to the hive.
How do Bees Communicate With Pheromones?
Bees use different pheromones to elicit different responses from their hive mates. Primer pheromones cause long term changes in the hive. They are necessary for the hive to keep running smoothly. Primer pheromones are mostly emitted by the queen.
Releaser pheromones are used for short term changes such as the alarm pheromone and recognizing hive mates. Worker bees mostly emit releaser pheromones.
The signals from the pheromones are detected by the bee’s antennae. Beekeepers can sometimes even detect bee pheromones through smell.
The bee’s alarm pheromone, which alerts other bees to intruders, smells like bananas. This smell also tends to stick to clothing, so beekeepers should wash their clothing after use. The nasonav pheromone, which is used to orient bees back to their hive, is said to have a lemon scent.
Even if you can’t smell it, sometimes you can tell that a bee is secreting a pheromone by it’s behavior. For example, when releasing the nasonav pheromone, bees at the entrance of the hive will raise their abdomen and flap their wings. This posture is similar to when they release the alarm pheromone as well.
How Long do Bee Pheromones Last?
While the lemony scent of the nasonav pheromone is welcomed by beekeepers, the smell of the alarm pheromone is something they try to get rid of. It is thought that most bee pheromones can last for up to 24 hours, with the queen mandibular pheromone lasting even longer.
Queen Bee Pheromones for Sale
Because queen bee pheromones are so powerful, some beekeepers even look for queen bee pheromones for sale. Beekeepers use bought queen bee pheromones to mimic the presence of an egg laying queen in certain situations.
When shipping queenless packages it is a good idea to place queen bee pheromones in the package to keep the bees calm. It can also be used in queenless hives to suppress queen rearing and laying workers until the new queen is introduced to the hive.
Bee pheromones are chemical messages that the colony uses to communicate with each other. All bees have different types of pheromones they secrete for different purposes. Bees communicate with pheromones in many different ways. Queen bee pheromones for sale are used in queenless hives and packages.