Northants Bee Keepers Association

Northamptonshire Beekeepers' Association (NBKA) Registered Charity No. 295593


Northants Bee Keepers Association

Copyright © NBKA 2007-2018

Northants Bee Keepers Association

A member organisation representing beekeepers in the County of Northamptonshire

Bee-Lines, the magazine of the NBKA distributed quarterly to members.

A sample article from a recent edition

Click Here for a Selection of Archived Articles from Previous Editions

BeeLines Index

May 2017

Intelligence v chemical responses in honey bees


When considering the complex organisation of a honey bee colony, the bees appear to be showing intelligent behaviour.

However, much behaviour is governed not by intelligence, i.e. the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills, but by

chemical responses. These chemical responses are produced by pheromones: a chemical or mixture of chemicals released by a bee that affects the behaviour or physiology of other bees. They may cause rapid changes in behaviour e.g. The alarm pheromone quickly engages other bees to defend, or long-term changes in both behaviour and physiology e.g. the brood pheromone suppresses worker’s ovary development.


Examples of honey bee pheromones:


Alarm pheromones. The Koschevnikov gland near the sting shaft releases an alarm pheromone containing more than 40 components including iso-pentyl acetate. They are highly volatile and smell like bananas. They attract other bees to

sting. The solvent in aftershave or perfume is similar to iso-pentyl acetate and will elicit the same response.


It was thought that another alarm pheromone was 2-heptanone released by the mandibular glands. However, it has been determined that bees use it to anaesthetise and paralyze intruders – bees sink their mandibles into their opponents and emit 2-heptanone into the lesion to numb the area. The bees are then able to remove the intruders from the hive, which gives protection from their main enemies, wax moth larvae and varroa.¹


Beeswax pheromone affects intensity of hoarding behaviour.


Brood recognition pheromone is produced by larvae and pupae and helps nurse bees distinguish between worker and drone larvae and pupae. It also inhibits development of ovaries in workers.


Diploid drone cannibalism pheromone, produced by diploid drone larvae, causes workers to eat diploid drone larvae preventing the colony rearing diploid drones.⁴


Drone pheromone enables drones to form a congregation area.


Dufour’s gland pheromone (‘alkaline gland’) only occurs in females i.e. Queens and workers. It is not clearly understood. It is said to be responsible for retinue formation around the queen³ and allows worker bees to distinguish between eggs laid by a queen and those laid by workers. The composition of the pheromone changes as a worker evolves into a laying worker.


Egg marking pheromone allows worker bees to distinguish between queen-laid and worker-laid eggs.


Faecal pheromone is produced by virgin queens. Fights between virgin queens or virgin queens and workers are sometimes resolved when virgin queens squirt faeces on the opponents. Workers covered in pheromone-laced faeces retire to groom; virgin queens covered in faeces are ignored by the workers.


Footprint pheromone is secreted from the workers’ feet and is attractive to other bees. It may help foragers locate a good food source and aid finding the hive entrance.


Forager pheromone (worker pheromone). Ethyl oleate is released by older forager bees to slow the maturing of nurse bees to keep the ratio of nurse bees to forager bees in the balance that is most beneficial to the hive.


Nasanov gland pheromone. Workers expose the gland located between the sixth and seventh abdominal tergites and by fanning send the scent into the air. It is used to attract nest mates to the hive entrance, a clustering swarm or a food source and attracting a swarm to a nesting site. The smell of the Nasonov pheromone, including geraniol, citral, nerolic acid and geranic acid, can often be detected in the air.


Tarsal (Arnhart gland) pheromone is similar to the footprint pheromone but is secreted by the queen. It is deposited on the surface of the comb and is believed to delay or prevent queen cell construction – it diminishes as the queen ages.


Tergite pheromone is produced by all the bees in the hive, but the composition and amount varies with the type of bee. Virgin queen’s tergite pheromone is believed to be related to fighting among virgin queens.


Queen mandibular pheromone (‘Queen substance’) regulates social behaviour, swarming, mating and suppression of laying workers. It is spread throughout the hive by the workers alerting colony members that the colony is queen-right and operating normally. The most important components are:


9-oxodec-2-enoic acid (9-ODA) inhibits queen rearing as well as ovarian development in worker bees, strong sexual attractant for drones when on a nuptial flight, critical to worker recognition of the presence of a queen in the hive.


9-hydroxy-2-enoic acid (9-HDA) promotes stability of a swarm.


Queen retinue pheromone encourages workers to groom and feed the queen and causes a retinue of attendants to surround and care for her.


A pheromone affects the behaviour of another individual of the same species. A pheromone that affects the behaviour of individuals of a different species is called a kairomone, used by parasitic or predatory insects to locate their hosts or prey. Varroa destructor and Apis mellifera are different species. Varroa uses the odour produced by the honey bee to find a host.


Brian Dennis



Rusty Burlew, Honey Bee Suite for permission to use her article on pheromones.



1. Honeybee Bites Can Act As Anesthetics: Medical News Today, 17 Oct. 2012.

3. Wikipedia: Honey Bee Pheromones.