Trail Pheromones At The Nest

Female bees of Lasioglossum zephyrum (a primitively eusocial halictid bee) also have individual inherited pheromone odours (Barrows et al., 1975). Males looking for mates are able to recognize and respond differentially to these pheromones. They tend to respond less to a female they have experienced previously. This has a strong biological advantage because such a female would either have repulsed them or have already mated with them.

Members of the small colonies of Lasioglossum zephyrum, do not appear to acquire one another’s odour but each seems to learn the individual odours of the few bees of the colony.

Guard bees at the nest entrance distinguish their own nestmates from other conspecific bees by odour (Michener et al., 1971; Barrows et al., 1975). Memory of each individual odour lasts for several days. Even after nestmates had been isolated for some days the guards still accepted them but after 12 days of isolation all reintroduced nestmates were rejected (Barrows et al., 1975). Check out Icebreaker pheromone |

The acceptance of non-nestmates increases with their degree of relation- ship to the guards’ own nestmates and hence with the familiarity of their odours (Greenberg, 1979; Buckle and Greenberg 1981). However, adults less than 48 hours old are generally accepted, probably because they have not yet acquired distinctive odours and as they do so, these are learned by their nestmates.

There is strong evidence that honeybee workers involuntarily deposit pheromones that attract others both when foraging and when entering their nest. Because the same pheromone appears to be concerned for each activity I have chosen to call it by the commonly accepted name of ‘trail’ pheromone rather than the previous names of ‘footprint’ pheromone (Butler et al., 1969) and ‘forage-marking’ pheromone (Ferguson and Free, 1979). It has not been identified.

It also appears probable that foraging honeybees are able to mark flowers whose nectar sources have been depleted — helping to avoid unproductive visits.

Trail pheromone at the nest

Butler et al. (1969) showed that workers entering their, hives deposit a persistent attractive material. Glass entrance tunnels that have been marked with this trail pheromone are much preferred by homecoming bees to clean glass entrance tunnels. The attractiveness of an entrance tunnel increased with the number of workers that had previously used it up to about 400 workers, thereafter its attractiveness failed to increase further. The trail pheromone of workers from another colony was also attractive (page 101), but slightly less so than that of workers from a bee’s own colony. The trail odour probably is often used to help bees orient to a change in the location of the entrance to their hive (Ribbands and Speirs, 1953; Lecomte, 1956; Butler et al., 1970), especially when the bees habitually land at the site of the old ones.

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