Tom Bodett and Motel 6 will leave the light on for you and me, but how do our bee friends know which hive is the right place for them? Do they click their little bee heels together and whisper “there’s no place like hive” to themselves? Probably not, but just how do they know? We talked last time about bees having a fantastic sense of smell. This is useful for locating a new food source, whether it be flowering fruit trees in a nearby orchard or sugar syrup placed in the hive next door. Bees can also use that sense to discern between different hives of bees. Bees from other hives have a different smell than their own hive mates.
One of my favorite things that bees do is to help their friends find the hive again by fanning. It is almost like the bees’ emergency lighthouse beacon. Bees will gather at the entrance, stick their fannies in the air, and flap their wings like crazy. The part we can’t see is that they are releasing pheromones or chemical scents from their body at the same time. The wing flapping, or fanning, spreads the scent into the air for the other members of their colony to smell and be attracted to the hive. If you look closely in the photo, you can see a white area on the tip of her tail end. This is call the Nasonov gland, which is the spot that releases the pheromones. Fanning happens when the bees are upset from the beekeeper opening the hive or when moving bees from a package to a permanent hive. Kind of like they are shouting, “Yes! This is the place! Enter here!”
The bees also use this chemical communication when a hive swarms. For me, it’s tricky enough to move the five members of our family from inside the house to the car, much less ten thousand bees moving from one hive to another. The leader that knows where the hive needs to move, sends out the signal that it’s time to swarm. They usually exit the hive and gather in a big cluster on a nearby tree branch. From there the bee leaders take the swarm and the queen to the spot they’ve identified for a new hive. Beekeepers use this to their advantage by baiting swarm traps with similar scents in hopes of attracting swarms that are looking for a new home. Lemongrass is one essential oil that mimics the the pheromone and attracts the bees, so don’t wash your hands with your lemongrass scented soap and go hang by the hive! They’d likely want to investigate you up close. Too bad a little lemongrass oil doesn’t make all my kids want to follow me from one place to another. We seem to have better luck with chocolate. Or me picking up the phone to make a call. Somehow that attracts them immediately from all corners of the house.
Bee fanning can also be used to cool the hive and to cure their honey. That fanning simply moves air through the hive, but doesn’t distribute a chemical signal. You can tell a difference by looking for the Nasonov gland being exposed and how high their bottoms are in the air. For cooling the hive, the ends stay low, but for signaling they really show their tails!
Thanks for beeing a FAN of the Bee Sweet Bee Farm girls! Remember watching the bees show their tails is cute, and a miracle of nature, watching you “show your tail” is not, so please BEE SWEET!