Bees have a keen sense of smell. They can easily detect predators and threats to the beehive. However, some individuals believe that they can detect fear, as well. Detecting an intruder or the presence of another creature is one thing, but detecting fear is totally different. Today, we will answer the question, can bees smell fear?. We will also go into the details of how bees decipher the fragrance or scent.
So can Bees really smell fear? Yes, Bees can smell fear. Instead of detecting fear in others conventionally through sight as humans may do, Bees can sense fear with the help of pheromones produced by animals when they are afraid.
If you are interested in learning more about how to cultivate your garden to be friendly to bees and other insects or the basics of becoming a beekeeper, checkout our online course recommendations here.
How bees use their sense of smell?
Now, before we head further into the details of how bees can smell fear, it is essential to understand how exactly bees use their sense of smell. It is well-known that bees have an excellent sense of smell. They can be trained to use their sense of smell to avoid danger. There are numerous examples where bees can detect even landmines using their sense of smell. Also, it is comparatively easy to train them since the time required is minimal.
According to a report by Telegraph (1), French and Croatian biologists have trained Bees to detect the mines and explosives. With the help of their olfactory sense, bees can help them detect thousands of landmines and explosives present under the ground in the unexploded state.
According to Dr. Rebecca Nesbit, working at Inscentinel, a company which trains bees, bees can even detect odors present in parts per trillion.
It is equivalent to detecting the smell of a grain of salt in an Olympic -sized swimming pool. Bees are also easier to train, according to Dr. Nesbit and are cheaper than sniffer dogs. That is why there is no doubt that bees have a keen sense of smell.
According to the director of the bee and environment unit at INRA in Avignon, France, Yves Le Conte with proper training, bees can detect TNT.
Bees use their sense of smell to protect their hives. They communicate with each other as well, with the help of this sense. That is why, once a single bee detects the fear or the pheromones generated as a result of fear, they can easily communicate with each other. We will explain below how exactly, they can use their sense of smell to detect fear.
How do bees smell fear?
Pheromones are produced in the body of any animal when they are scared. They are similar to any other hormone produced by the body. These hormones are used to send signals within the body and to others in the same species. However, they cannot smell in the same way you smell the fragrance of your favorite flower or the perfume. Under normal circumstances, the olfactory system controls the sense of smell.
In humans, the palate in the mouth is responsible for detecting the smell molecules from Pheromones. After that, the olfactory directly alerts the limbic system, which is a part of the brain, which deals with emotional responses. The system works in the same manner in bees as well as humans. However, it is less sensitive in humans, while a study found that such fear can be contagious due to its smell, but humans cannot decipher it. Bees, on the other hand, can easily decipher this fear.
Since the bees can then communicate using smell, they can quickly alert their entire counterparts regarding the smell of fear. In such a way that, in a short time, the whole hive gets informed about the smell of fear. In a nutshell, bees cannot exactly smell fear, but they can detect pheromones generated when living beings are fearful. That is why the phrase that bees can smell fear has become quite famous.
How do bees use their sense of smell for their defense?
Bees do not consistently try to detect fear. However, they use their sense of smell to protect their beehive. When you are near, the bees detect a strange odor and alert bees in the hive. It means that an intruder or a creature might be nearby. That is when the entire colony is on alert. The odor which it detects is the pheromones of that creature. As a result, there starts a chain reaction in the beehive, and the bees communicate with the help of smell. They release pheromones which lets the other bees know that there is a potential danger. As a result, they step up the defenses of the beehive once a bee detects unknown pheromones in the vicinity of the beehive.
Why do people think bees smell fear?
As you might have understood from our explanation above, bees do not directly detect fear, but they detect unknown pheromones. That is when they alert other bees regarding the unknown pheromones. However, the fear of bee attacks has made people believe that bees can smell fear directly. They can detect unknown pheromones rather than recognizing fear. Pheromones can also be released in the body when it is undergoing an entirely different emotional reaction. Of course, those pheromones are also different, but bees can detect those as well.
Rather than detecting fear, bees smell pheromones which alert them regarding an impending danger. They do not directly detect fear.
How do bees react to threats by dogs and cats?
Pheromones are released in cats and dogs. With the help of pheromones, bees can easily detect dogs and cats when they are in the vicinity. They get into the alert mode in the presence of these creatures since they think that they are a threat. However, unless and until they do something to poses a risk to the beehive, the bees do not attack the cats or dogs.
Unless your dog or cat starts messing around with the beehive, the bees won’t attack them. The reaction of dogs or cats is similar to humans when strung by a bee. They too suffer from inflammation and immense pain. With the help of pheromones, chances are bees can detect the dogs and cats well in advance. It means that it is tough for the dog or cat to disturb the bees directly. If you have bees in your backyard and have pets as well, as long as pets stay away from the hive, bees will not sting the pets. However, once your pet tries to disturb the beehive, that is when bees will attack your pets. With their keen sense of smell, they will be alert in advance and therefore, your dog or cat might not be able to bring down the beehive since they will experience the attack before that.
What causes bees to react aggressively?
1. Queen-less hives can often turn bees aggressive. It takes place when the beekeeper removes the Queen bee. They can get aggressive and start attacking the beekeeper. The simple solution is to replace the Queen bee once again into the hive.
2. When there is a shortage of nectar-producing flowers, bees can often get aggressive. They usually try to steal the nectar from other beehives in such a case. The process is known as a robbing. In such a case, bees cannot help but become aggressive. The defending and robbing bees, both become aggressive.
3. During the process of stealing, bees might fight one another near the entrance of the hive. In such a case, the bees often release hormone pheromone. It alerts the other bees that there is danger around the beehive. As a result, more bees may join the fight. Things can escalate quite quickly, which will result in either loss of bees or stolen nectar or both.
4. The robbing process escalates quickly. If the robbing process continues, there will be more release of pheromone. When the bees fight with each other, some are bound to get killed. In such a case as well, there is a scent released which can attract not only other bees but also predators. The traditional predators like wasps and yellow jackets might arrive in no time after gaining the smell. The problem is that once these predators come near, more bees release pheromones which in turn attract even more bees and the entire fight becomes a mess. It is like a chain reaction, which is very difficult to stop.
5. Bees can also become aggressive when they detect predators like skunks and raccoons. Bees often detect the pheromones of these predators when they are in the vicinity. As a result, they alert the bees, and they get into the defensive mode. If the predator attacks, they are bound to become more aggressive. The predator can also attack the beekeeper. In that case, as well, the bees can get pretty aggressive. As you can see, in any attack, bees are bound to become aggressive.
6. Bees can also become aggressive during the summer season. Hot and humid conditions can make them cranky. At such a point in time, the temperature in the beehive also increases, which can, in turn, make them aggressive. The only bit of problem is that when they become aggressive due to natural causes, there is no easy way to calm them down. That is why, if a predator or a living being is in the vicinity of the beehive during this time, they might attack the living being. The occurrence of such attacks is on the lower side, but they do happen nonetheless.
So, if you have been asking the question, can bees smell fear? The answer to that is they can smell the pheromones which are released after an animal experiences fear. In a nutshell, they can detect the pheromones but not interpret the emotion of fear, just that it is there. They use this pheromone detection to protect themselves from the predators in advance as well. So, bees can either become defensive or aggressive once they detect fear because it is a pheromone which is usually not present in their vicinity.
Can other insects smell fear?
There are a few other insects as well, which can detect pheromones, including the ones generated when a living organism is fearful. The primary among them is wasps. They exhibit similar behavior of detecting pheromones related to fear.