During colony fission, honey bee workers are exquisitely sensitive to the presence of their queen in airborne swarms and bivouacs and will abandon swarming if she is absent. However, it is not known whether swarming queens produce a chemical bouquet that is distinct from non-swarming queens, containing either unique chemicals or altered proportions of chemicals. We found that queens emitted higher quantities and greater numbers of unique volatiles at liftoff than they did prior to swarming or in clustered bivouacs, and swarming workers tended to be attracted to these liftoff volatile blends. Pentadecane and heptadecane were collected most frequently and emitted in significantly higher quantities by queens at liftoff; these compounds have been described as pheromone components in other social insects, but not yet in honey bees. Our results suggest that volatile emission by queens is more dynamic than previously thought and that changes in their chemical signals may play a role in regulating the behavior of swarming workers.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Insect Science