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Smells Like Bees' Spirit: Response To Pheromone Changes According To Situation

Date:
August 13, 2008
Source:
Queen Mary, University of London
Summary:
When bumblebees return to the nest from a successful foraging mission, they produce a pheromone which encourages their nest mates to also go out and find food. Scientists had originally thought that these pheromones elicited a standard response from all bees. But new research from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences has shown that bees' response to the pheromone changes according to their situation.

RFID tagged bumblebees in their nest.
Credit: Image courtesy of Queen Mary, University of London

Bumblebees choose whether to search for food according to how stocked their nests are, say scientists from Queen Mary, University of London.

When bumblebees return to the nest from a successful foraging mission, they produce a pheromone which encourages their nest mates to also go out and find food. Scientists had originally thought that these pheromones elicited a standard response from all bees. But new research from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences has shown that bees’ response to the pheromone changes according to their situation.

Dr Mathieu Molet and Dr Nigel Raine have shown that worker bees are much more likely to respond to the pheromone and leave the nest in search of food, if the colony has little or no food reserves left.

“Flying around all day to find nectar and pollen from flowers is hard work. So it makes sense that bees are more likely to respond to the pheromone when honey reserves are low,” said Dr Molet.

Writing in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, the Natural Environment Research Council funded team explain how they used radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology (the same electronic tagging system used in a London Underground oyster card) to automatically record the activity of bees in the lab.

Different colonies of bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) were stocked with different levels of food reserves (honeypots). Artificial foraging pheromones were applied to the bees, and they were monitored over 16,000 ‘foraging bouts’. The response to the pheromones was stronger in colonies with less food - with more worker bees becoming active, and more foraging bouts being performed.

The team’s findings suggest that the pheromone can modulate a bumblebee’s foraging activity - preventing needless energy expenditure and exposure to risk when food stores are already high. In future, such artificial pheromones could also be used to increase the effectiveness of bumblebee colonies pollinating commercial crops, such as tomatoes.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Queen Mary, University of London. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Molet et al. Colony nutritional status modulates worker responses to foraging recruitment pheromone in the bumblebee Bombus terrestris
. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 2008; DOI: 10.1007/s00265-008-0623-3

Cite This Page:

Queen Mary, University of London. "Smells Like Bees' Spirit: Response To Pheromone Changes According To Situation." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 August 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080813114229.htm>.
Queen Mary, University of London. (2008, August 13). Smells Like Bees' Spirit: Response To Pheromone Changes According To Situation. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080813114229.htm
Queen Mary, University of London. "Smells Like Bees' Spirit: Response To Pheromone Changes According To Situation." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080813114229.htm (accessed September 17, 2014).

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