Sunday, 19 February 2012

Bee Communication- Pheromones

I went to the Surrey BKA Day on Saturday; there were some very interesting talks but one in particular on bee communication. As the hive is very dark and their eyesight is poor the bees communicate by touching, dancing (vibration), food sharing and pheromones.
There are 2 types of pheromone;
Primers- slowing acting, long lasting. Like the one which attracts the workers to the queen and care for her. This also inhibits their ability to develop sex organs to lay eggs. When the queen returns from her virgin flight her levels are low and she is forced to feed herself. As her levels increase over the days, the bees recognise her and take over her care. As she ages they decline
again, this prompts succession and swarming.

The other types are Releasers- fast acting and quick to dissipate, like the sting pheromone.
Foraging bees have a gland near their tail which releases a ‘Im here, follow me’ vapour trail which, along with the waggle dance, helps the other bees find their way to found food sources and a found new home after swarming. They also have glands on their feet that mark flowers to tell other bees that the nectar has been taken; it remains just long enough for the flower to restock.

Apart from glands the bees bodies are also covered in receptors. The analytical part of the bees brain is only a few hundred cells so this information is provided by these receptors. They can be found on their antennae and legs. It could be said that they taste with their legs!

They work together to maintain a perfect balance of pheromones for communication. Theres a school of thought that says when we smoke and open a hive, its not the thought of a forest fire that preoccupies them but that the smoke and roof raising destroys this chemical balance and leaves them confused and unable to communicate fully. Even more reason to keep maintenance checks to a minimum.

Theres much more to learn but just a final word, the warning pheromone smells like ripe bananas so it you smell it during a check, beware. The attack pheromone smells like pear drops, if you smell that get outta there!

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