Pheromone Communication in Animals

Pheromones play an influential role in in bees. Workers that have been in a queen’s court and palpated her with their antennae have an increased tendency to make reciprocated antennal contact with other workers but it is these other workers that seem mostly to initiate the contact, suggesting that they can detect the presence of an attractant (presumably the queen pheromone) on the antennae of workers from the court and also perhaps on other parts of their bodies to which it has been transferred by personal grooming.

Indeed, experiments showed that workers were stimulated to make antennal contact with the excised heads alone of bees from a queen’s court, indicating that the presence of queen’s pheromone on the antennae, irrespective of the bee’s behaviour, is of prime importance. The longer a bee has been in the court, the greater the frequency with which it attracts and is inspected by other workers. The first workers contacted by those leaving the court also have an increased tendency to make reciprocated antennal contacts. Learn more about pheromones at

On leaving a court bees range widely throughout the brood area of a colony, frequently contacting other workers. Probably direct contact with the queen stimulates them to greater activity (page 61). However, it is possible that the more active workers are likely to respond to the presence of a nearby queen and enter her court, so that the presence of workers in the court is a consequence of their greater activity and not its cause; information is needed on the activity of bees prior to entering a court. Within about ten minutes of leaving the queen’s court the workers’ behaviour and attractiveness returns to that of workers outside the queen’s pheromones according to

How Pheromones Affect Animals

Pheromones play an important role in animal communication. Only about one bee in the court is licking the queen to every twelve examining her with their antennae. Relatively fewer workers lick their queen when she is laying eggs and none when she is moving over the comb (Free et al., 19873). For example:

Behaviour of queen Number of workers Number of workers licking queen palpating queen Stationary 0.9 9.8 Laying 0.5 7.3 Moving 0 5.2 mm.

Instead it seems that queen pheromones are transferred from the queen to workers in her court, and presumably from them to other bees, by physical contact and recognized by chemoperception. Velthuis (1972) showed that a worker that had been confined with a queen was attractive to a small queenless group of workers which treated her as a ‘substitute queen’, probably because of the queen pheromone adhering to her body.

During transfer of food, the antennae of donor and recipient are continually in motion and often touch each other. Whereas this Contact is essential for food transfer to occur (Free, 1956) workers also frequently make antennal contact without accompanying food transfer, and strong circumstantial evidence has accumulated (Free, 1978; Seeley, 1979; Ferguson and Free, 1980; Juska et al., 1981) which indicates that workers in a queen’s court obtain queen pheromone on their antennae, and that queen pheromone is distributed through the colony during antennal contact between workers.

Pheromones have an immediate influence (Fig. 2.1); this is probably because the effects of the stimulation they had received from the queen and the amount of queen pheromone on their antennae has diminished. Check out pheromones at 
Presumably most loss of queen pheromone from the worker’s antennae is by volatilization, but we cannot be sure until we have identified the components involved. Continuous air turmoil caused by the movement of thousands of bees in the brood area of a honeybee colony must aid volatilization and dispersal of a pheromone and lead to the need for its pheromone spray.

Figure 2.1 Number of reciprocated antennal contacts made with other workers during a ten-minute period by workers immediately after leaving the queen’s court and by control workers not near the queen (after Ferguson and Free, 1980).

The most important tip for that last 10% of mastering pheromones is that there are no rules. The more you break the rules that are not there the better it’s going to be. Be as surprising and creative as you can be. Be like you are 5 years old. 5 year olds are full of energy, all over the place, you don’t know what to expect from them, where they’re going to be 5 minutes from now. They’re absolutely fascinated with whatever they’re doing.


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