How do honey bees use pheromones to communicate?
Bees use chemical cues to interact with each other and to manage colony organization. Alarm pheromone is used to recruit bees to defend the colony, while Nasanov pheromone is used for aggregation (during swarming or if bees are displaced from the colony). The forager bees produce a pheromone which slows the behavioral maturation of young bees so that they remain in the nursing state longer – this allows the colony to adjust the worker force to have the optimal number of nurses and foragers. The virgin queen releases a pheromone which is used to signal to drones during mating. After mating, the chemical composition of this pheromone changes, and it will inhibit the rearing of new queens, slow behavioral maturation of workers, and inhibit the development of ovaries in workers (so they remain sterile). Queen pheromone also attracts workers from a short distance, and causes them to lick and antennate the queen in a “retinue response”. The workers in the retinue thus pick up the pheromone and spread it throughout the colony. The developing larvae produce brood pheromone, which stimulates feeding of the larvae, capping of the cells prior to pupation, and also slows the behavioral maturation of workers and inhibits worker ovary development. Exposure to both brood and queen pheromone will stimulate foraging behavior in forager bees.
- Christina Grozinger, Pennsylvania State University