The Honey Bee's Sense of Smell
Honey bees, Apis mellifera, are highly social insects that live in dense colonies. For this
reason, they require a sophisticated set of senses for communication. They also use their
senses for food and threat detection.
The majority of bees' sensory organs are located in the antennae. This is the first part of the
bee to come into contact with scent, flavor and the physical world. Aside from the antennae,
their hairs are highly useful for making sense of the world around them.
The honey bee’s sense of smell is so sensitive that it can detect the trace of a scent in flight.
This ability equips the bee to effectively and efficiently locate pollen-rich flowers.
The sense of smell is important for honey bees to survive, reproduce, communicate, find a
good food source and keep their hive safe.
Honey bees have a much better sense of smell than fruit flies or mosquitoes, but a much worse
sense of taste,
Honey bees have 170 olfactory or ‘smell’ receptors, but only have 10 gustatory or ‘taste’
receptors. They use their extraordinary sense of smell to detect chemical signals, including
pheromones from their surroundings.
Honey bees also use odor recognition for finding food. Foraging worker bees might encounter a bewildering
number of flowers to choose from, but they can discriminate between them using subtle olfactory cues. A large
number of scent receptors allow the bees to find food and communicate its location to other bees.
Honey bees use their antennae to detect odor. Honey bees have 170 odor receptors (chemoreceptors)
in their antennae - this is high for an insect. The honey bee’s sense of smell is so
sensitive that it can detect the trace of a scent in flight. This ability equips the bee to effectively and
efficiently locate pollen-rich flowers. Once the scent is detected on the antennae, the bee’s
hyper-sensitive olfactory path processes the information, enabling the bee to determine the
relevance of the scent to her search for pollen.
A pheromone is a chemical substance used for communication within a group of animals
from the same species. In the world of honey bees, the release of a pheromone triggers some
changes in the physiology and behavior of other members in the same colony.
When it comes to food, bees’ legs play the biggest role. Receptors in the tarsi
and the tarsomeres allow bees to sense both salt and sweetness. Apparently sweetness is in
the claws (tips of the legs) – at the tips of the legs.
The claw’s sense of taste allows worker bees to detect nectar immediately when they land on flowers. Also,
bees hovering over water ponds can promptly detect the presence of salts in water through the tarsomeres
of their hanging legs.
Anatomy of a Honey Bee leg.
A worker bee carries a specific odor on the body surface, which is similar to other members
from the same hive. This chemical signature, resembling an identification card, informs guard
bees about the origin of the bee before entering the hive. In this case, the guard
bees use a specific pheromone to screen a potential intruder.
Honey Bee waggle dance.
A queen honey bee produces a mandibular pheromone to regulate large numbers of genes in the
worker’s brain. As a result, this event triggers downstream behaviors of the bees, such as nursing
or foraging. The queen’s mandibular might play an important role in the transition to
foraging behavior in honey bees.
Honey bees use pheromones to locate their queen and form a coherent swarm, in which each member
of the same group must keep track of what others do. First, the queen produces her pheromones to
notify her location. But these pheromones only travel a limited distance, so the chemicals are unable
to reach bees further away. To amplify the signal, the bees closer to the queen then display ‘scenting’
These pheromones cause slow and long-term changes. For example, some queen pheromones regulate
large numbers of the workers’ genes and cause the delay from nursing to foraging for food.
These pheromones cause quick responses and short-term changes. For example, an alarm pheromone
in honey bees triggers aggressive behavior by activating the expression of early genes in the brain of
Honey bees sense pheromones by using their body parts, such as their antennae. As the phase of the
pheromones is typically volatile, the cells in their smell receptors are the ones that receive the chemicals.
Volatile pheromones means these chemicals are easily evaporated or easily changed from a liquid phase
into a gas phase — sometimes they even come with a specific odor.
Have you ever wondered how bees fly? Scientists first
realized that bees seem to flout the laws of mathematics in the 1930s.
Bees can learn faces, add and subtract and even process the concept of zero. In a new study
they studies bees to understand how they acquire information.
To talk of bee tongues is to vastly oversimply the complex apparatus that makes up bee
mouthparts. They vary considerably in size and shape, depending on the need.