BEEKEEPING IN THE NORTHEAST - An account of my beekeeping, not a treatise of expertise, but for friends & family who wish to keep bees vicariously through me, and for the occasional apiarist passer-by.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Common Honey Bee Pheromones

by Athena Contus, Athena’s Bees – April 2017
This is dealt with in many places on the web, but I'm just hoping to simplify it here for my students with some important links.

There are two types of pheromones: releaser and primer pheromones.

Releaser pheromones are odors that are fast-acting and behavior-changing, like the smell a bee leaves as a mark on a threat when it is alarmed.

Primer pheromones function much differently: they induce delayed, behavioral or psychological responses. Female worker bees do not lay eggs because they are under the spell of a primer pheromone released by the queen.


Alarm pheromone – Smells like bananas

The alarm pheromone emitted when a bee stings another animal smells like bananas. Smoke can mask the bees' alarm pheromone.

The other alarm pheromone is released by the mandibular glands and consists of 2-heptanone, which is also a highly volatile substance. This compound has been found to anesthetize some intruding insects for about nine minutes.

Nasonov pheromone – Smells like lemongrass

Nasonov pheromone is emitted by the worker bees and used for orientation and recruitment.

Brood recognition pheromone

Prevents worker bees from bearing offspring in a colony that still has developing young. Both larvae and pupae emit a "brood recognition" pheromone. This inhibits ovarian development in worker bees and helps nurse bees distinguish worker larvae from drone larvae and pupae.

Drone pheromone

Drones produce a pheromone that attracts other flying drones to promote drone aggregations at sites suitable for mating with virgin queens.

Footprint pheromone

This pheromone is left by bees when they walk and is useful in enhancing Nasonov pheromones in searching for nectar.

In the queen, it is an oily secretion of the queen's tarsal glands that is deposited on the comb as she walks across it. This inhibits queen cell construction (thereby inhibiting swarming), and its production diminishes as the queen ages.

Forager pheromone

Ethyl oleate is released by older forager bees to slow the maturing of nurse bees. This primer pheromone acts as a distributed regulator to keep the ratio of nurse bees to forager bees in the balance that is most beneficial to the hive. For my beekeeping this has proven to have a great deal of impact on colonies going into winter. If fields are mowed when possibly two-thirds of my bees are out there foraging, they will be mowed down, returning to the hive in such small numbers a domino effect causes the dwindling phenomenon. See Randy Oliver's "Old Bees, Cold Bees, No Bees". Randy oddly does not mention mowing as a reason for foragers not making it home, but this is what I see and it was addressed at the Apimondia International Beekeeping Conference in Istanbul, 2017, Promoting Bee Friendly Farming Methods - Walter Haefeker

Movement & Honey Bees

By Athena Contus, Athena’s Bees – April 2017
photos: Creative Commons
A common sight on a hive landing board is a little bee or several with their little bee butts in the air.

This is where the nasonov gland is located. As the bees fan it with their wings, it gives off a smell similar to lemongrass. 

It says to the homeward bound bee:

“Here we are – don’t bee lost”.

Another common site is a small battalion of young bees hovering & flying in short spirts, while facing the hive. The guard bees hustle them out to practice these “orientation flights” whenever a safe window of opportunity presents itself.

Honey Bees are excellent navigators – even on a cloudy day they utilize the polarized light of the sun to get around; many colony dynamics come into play for success.

Navigating serves two purposes for the honey bee: Do the job – Get home.

The beekeeper needs to appreciate the following facts about honey bees & movement:

•    Moving a hive is very problematic because honey bees are very location specific. The landing board they leave from is in the only place they know to return to whether it is still there or not.

•    If during the day a beekeeper moves a beehive that has flying foragers, those foragers will come back to the base the hive sat on. It is the only location for “home” they have oriented to. Methods for moving hives must be carefully thought out by the beekeeper. Many are discussed in online beekeeper venues.

•    Bees cannot navigate without the polarized light of the sun so, unlike bumble bees, do not do well in a greenhouse or any house but their own.

•    The honey bee’s day is done at dusk. They cannot navigate in the dark. Night lights confuse them.

•    If trapped in a house or a car they will go immediately to a window toward the outside light trying to get home.

•    Bees may drift to other hives by mistake if they can’t recognize the home hive from the others in the apiary. If they have food with them they are welcome; if not, they are expelled & unless they can smell the difference between their home and the neighboring hive, they are lost.

•    In winter honey bees can be confused by a wrapped up hive when coming back from voiding waste. They often try and find their way under winter wrappings in vain. They can become exhausted, dying in the snow while looking for home.

•    There are no nasonov fanners on the landing board in winter. Some beekeepers do not wrap the front of the hive to avoid confusing the bees or concealing its uniqueness in the apiary.

We didn't get to this subject in our last club Bee School. This subject is often seldom addressed in books and lectures as well. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

Newbees In Club Bee School

Another winter and new beekeepers in Bee School 2019... Here are some things worth mentioning with a link to a past article or two...

Slatted racks were designed with great insights into northern honey bee behaviors. The book we are using for bee school this season reveals some confusion about what Slatted Racks are most useful for:

  1. Giving the girls a place to hang out in increment spring cold & rain instead of crowding up into the brood box.
  2. Buffering the brood box from any forager traffic as well as air breezing up through the screened bottom board.

Painting a beehive is fairly straight forward:
How To Paint:
  • That's basically it.
The hive parts that touch each other must be paint free. Paint only the outside surfaces for weather proofing the wood. The bees will propolis the insides. The landing board may be completely painted as it does not touch the bees nor need to be removed during an inspection.

Read more detail at this link.

What to use:  Exterior Paint, Latex. The photos above are with a weatherproofing stain, VOC less than 100. Drying time well over a few weeks before installing bees.
In our northern climate I make sure I can use it in cold weather. 
  • Bees see only in the ultra violet range.
we see 
bees see
add in UV
uv purple

uv purple

uv violet
uv blue

blue green


What does this mean? Colors look different and they are attracted to our Purple, Violet, then Blue in that order. Red doesn't work for them. White looks bluish-green to them.