If you’re a bee keeper, or a student studying bees or maybe you’re just a bee enthusiast, you’ve probably wondered one time or the other if – like many other insects – a dead bee attracts other bees to it and if it does, how does it work. It’s not so hard to think about, given that their other insect cousins in many cases exhibit this phenomenon. Ants are generally attracted to dead things around them which is mainly because dead things for ants are rich with sugar and acid that the ants thrive on. Also like ants, wasps are attracted to their dead counterparts largely due to the fact that they are scavengers and will feed on any dead meat available to them.
So, do dead bees attract other bees? No, dead bees do not attract other bees. The exception is dead or dying queen bees usually attract other bees, that is because the queen – being a very essential part of a bee colony – must be protected always and if the queen bee dies, other bees around begin to work towards electing a new queen. In fact, bees in general do not have much interest in anything that doesn’t involve the production of honey and continued survival of their hive.
How Bees Attract Other Bees
Attraction of insects to other things is a phenomenon that is made possible by a chemical substance called Pheromone. A pheromone is secreted by an insect to alter or affect the actions of other insects around them. Bees also secrete pheromones, to them, it is a very important means of communication.
“Bees have 15 glands responsible for producing the pheromones.”
Pheromones can be grouped into two main kinds; the releaser pheromone, which affects the recipient bee’s behavior for a short time and the primer pheromones, which has a more lasting effect on its recipient. The pheromone that is secreted by the exocrine gland is in the form of liquid or vapor. When the recipient bee comes in contact with the substance released, it acts depending on the type of pheromone that it comes in contact with.
The most common type of pheromone is the Alarm pheromone, it is given off when a bee is in danger or becomes agitated and it immediately attracts other bees to it. Bees also give off attack pheromones when they are trying to protect or defend the nest, hence they swarm their target and sting as much as they can until the perceived threat has been neutralized. In bees, the queen releases the strongest pheromones which shouldn’t be a surprise as she is the nerve center of a beehive. The queen uses the pheromones to attract a mate and to also attract workers in groups who will be responsible for feeding and grooming.
Types of Pheromones Released by Bees
Bees release various kinds of pheromones, all of which have specific purposes. Below is a list of some pheromones released by bees:
- Alarm pheromone: This is a general hormone i.e. it doesn’t give specific instructions to its recipients. There are two variations of the alarm pheromone, one that is released when a bee stings another animal, and calls other bees to its location, making them behave defensively. The other variation of the alarm pheromone acts like a repellent, it prevents potential enemies and bees that want to steal from the hive.
- Footprint pheromone: This is a type of pheromone left behind when bees walk, it is very useful in increasing the potency of the pheromones responsible for finding nectar. The footprint pheromone in queen bees has a different effect, it is deposited on the honeycomb while she walks and it deters queen cell construction. The older the queen gets, the less amount of footprint pheromone she can release.
- The Nasonov pheromone: This is sometimes referred to as the recruitment pheromone, it is released by bee workers to recruit and orient more bees. It also aids in the nectar search.
- Forager pheromone: This is an example of the primer pheromone, it is released by old forager bees and helps to slow the maturing of nurse bees. The main purpose of a forager hormone (ethyl oleate) is to help keep the balance in ratio between nurse bees and forager bees. And because it is a primer pheromone, its effects last for a relatively long time.
- The Egg marking pheromone: This is a type of pheromone that helps appropriate and distinguish between eggs laid by the bee queen and those laid by a laying worker. Think of them as nurses that make sure the different babies don’t mix up and get everyone in the hospital confused.
- Dufour’s gland pheromone: Named after the famous French naturalist Leon Jean Dufour, it secretes into the vaginal cavity and deposits on the eggs as they are laid, helping to give a distinction between the eggs laid by the queen and those laid by the workers.
- Drone pheromone: The drone pheromone is a type of pheromone that attracts other flying bee drones to facilitate the promotion of drone aggregation at suitable sites for mating with the queens.
- Brood recognition pheromone: This pheromone is released by the larvae and pupae. The pheromone hinder ovarian development in worker bees and also helps the nurse bees distinguish between the worker larvae from the pupae and drone larvae. This pheromone also modulates the adult caste ratio foraging bees in development.
- Queen bee pheromones: The queen, because of general hive administrative responsibilities generate pheromones that the regular bees cannot release. Some of these pheromones are; the queen retinue pheromone, queen mandibular pheromone etc.
Do Bees Kill Other Bees?
Conflict and death seems to be a characteristic of all living things, even the most docile of animals fight among each other sometimes. Bees do not usually fight each other, at least not the bees that live in the same hive.
Although, in some occasions, bees have been seen to fight each other, this is exclusive to the queen bee and doesn’t happen very often. A queen bee fights off other queen bees to remain in power and protect her pro-genies. Another instance of conflict is when the worker bees try to get rid of the drone bees after they have become redundant, these drone bees don’t exactly allow themselves be killed willingly but in most cases are always too weak compared to the worker bees to put up much of a fight. Usually, when it is time for depopulation, the worker bees do not allow the drone bees back in the hive and the drone bees in the hive are forcefully dragged out, a few times, the worker bees will sting a struggling drone bee in an attempt to kill or subdue it.
While unnecessary conflict among bees in the same colony is very rare, bees would do anything within their bee power to fight against intruders, bee intruders included. This fighting is mainly worker bees dragging antennas, pulling hair and dissembling a stubborn hive assailant. The bees from the same colony will gang up on other bees or wasps who have become a nuisance to the hive and kill it by either stinging or pulling at the arms and hairs of the wasp or assailant.
Do bees sting other bees to death?
Yes they do, but in most cases, bees just gang up on an enemy and literately wrestle and dismantle their opponent. Sometimes, they may sting the bees too.
How do bees in a colony dispose their dead?
The behavior of bees and other insects disposing their dead counterparts is called Necrophoresis; this is the process insects take after discovering a dead member of their colony. The bees carry the dead bodies of dead members of the colony away from the hive, it is also an act of sanitation (to prevent disease and or infection spread) since bees are generally a neat and tidy lot. Certain members of the worker caste in a beehive are tasked with disposing the dead bodies, they may carry the bodies to a random site a reasonable distance away from the hive or store the bodies where they keep their waste.
How can bees tell when another bee is dead?
Bees do not give off pheromones when they die, and since pheromones are a sure way of communicating, we are left to wonder how bees tell when their counterparts are dead. A living bee is working mass of released pheromones, so a bee instantly recognizes another living bee from the pheromones they give off. This is possible because bees can sense most pheromones released by other bees. So when a bee is dead, the absence of a transmitting pheromone from a body could be a telling sign to other bees that a bee is dead.
Also, decaying bees give off a particular smell that would be hard to miss in a beehive. Unlike regular bees, a queen bee gives of pheromones when she dies, allowing the colony to quickly take cognizance of her death and immediately prepare for a replacement queen.