Do Bees Release Pheromones When Killed? We Dispel the Myths!

Do Bees Release Pheromones When Killed?

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If you’re outside enjoying a sunny day and a spot of your favorite food and drink, this could attract a bee or two. But they’re not trying to hurt you, they’re just having a look at what’s on offer.

But a lot of people will attempt to swat or even kill the bee. There are rumors all over the internet that killing a bee can attract more bees because of an alarm pheromone. But what’s the truth; do bees release pheromones when killed?

A dead bee is dead. It isn’t doing anything so it’s unlikely that it will release any pheromones. However, a dying, injured or threatened bee will send out alarm signals that will attract other members of its hive.

Bees work together in almost every aspect of life and that includes defending themselves against potential threats or predators. If you attack a bee and its alarm pheromones call in for backup, you’d better watch out because an angry swarm is not something you want to do battle with.

What’s The Relevance Of Oleic Acid?

While bees won’t release an alarm pheromone when they are dead, there is evidence to suggest that they release oleic acid. This won’t cause the dead bee’s hive mates to attack but is actually linked to hygiene.

It isn’t just honey bees that release oleic acid when they die. There are plenty of other insects that do the same. But what is the reason for this?

Oleic acid signals to other bees in the hive that a member has died. Since these creatures are incredibly meticulous about hive hygiene, the presence of this acid tells them that they need to clean. As a response to this, the remaining bees will remove the corpse and clean the hive.

Why Do Bees Release Alarm Pheromones And What Are They?

Bees, and many other insects, are able to attract one another because of pheromones. There’s a very similar concept in human attraction and while much of it is subconscious, we actually attract potential partners through our very own pheromones. There’s also research that shows newborn babies and their mothers are drawn to one another because of pheromones.

But what is a pheromone? Well, simply put, it is a blend of chemicals that is secreted by an animal, in this case, a bee which alters how other bees behave around them. For bees, this is an essential part of how members of the hive communicate with one another.

In bees, there are 15 glands that produce pheromones and there are two different types. The first is a releaser pheromone. This is used to affect the behavior of another bee for a short period of time. There are also primer pheromones that affect the recipient for much longer.

Once the pheromone is released, in either vapor or liquid form, the other bee will come into contact with it and react accordingly. How they react and how long they’re affected will depend on the type of pheromone being released.

The Alarm Pheromone

Bees are capable of releasing a large number of different pheromones but one of the most well-known is the alarm pheromone. This is often a concern for beekeepers because if they upset the hive, the alarm pheromones are released and all hell can break loose. It is for this reason that a lot of beekeepers choose to use a smoker as this masks the scent of the pheromones and helps to keep the bees calm while the keeper performs hive maintenance.

Bees release their alarm pheromone when they feel threatened or find themselves in a potentially dangerous situation. As soon as the bee becomes agitated, the pheromone is released and any nearby bees are instantly attracted to this.

The result of this could be a very angry swarm which will also release attack pheromones as a form of defence. When they do this, their aim is to surround the perceived threat and sting it as much as they can.

The queen bee will give off the most prominent pheromones as she is the most important member of the hive. If she’s in trouble, it’s essential that other bees react as quickly as possible.

But what’s interesting about the alarm pheromone is that, unlike other pheromones, it’s pretty general. The chemicals do not send out a specific message or instruction but the bees seem to know that it signals there is a problem.

Moreover, you have to remember that there isn’t just one type of alarm pheromone. Just to confuse things even further, there are actually two variations of this. The first is released if the bee feels threatened and acts as a deterrent to the threat. The second type is released if a bee stings a human or other creature. When they release this, other bees will turn up to offer protection.

Other Important Bee Pheromones

While bees are well known for releasing their alarm pheromone, this isn’t the only type that they’re capable of producing. There are several other types of bee pheromone and if you’re a beekeeper, it’s important to clue yourself up on these so that you can better understand your bees’ behavior.

The Footprint Pheromone

As its name probably suggests, the footprint pheromone is a scent that bees leave behind as they walk. What’s the reason for this? Well, it can help to increase other pheromones that help bees locate food.

The only time that it works any differently is when the footprint pheromone is released by the queen. In this case, she will walk over the comb to discourage queen cell construction. However, as the queen ages, she isn’t as easily able to produce the pheromone anymore.

The Forager Pheromone

The forager pheromone is a type of primer pheromone that forager bees release as they get older. Amazingly, this pheromone is able to slow down the ageing of nurse bees so that the ratio in the hive remains balanced. Out of all the types of bee pheromones, this is one that lasts the longest.

The Nasonov Pheromone

You might sometimes hear people calling this one the recruitment pheromone as it’s actually released by worker bees as a way of recruiting new bees to the hive. The Nasonov pheromone is also used to help other bees in their search for food.

The Dufour’s Gland Pheromone

This pheromone is secreted from the female bee’s reproductive organs. The purpose of this pheromone is to help other bees determine which eggs have been laid by the queen and which have been laid by other females in the hive.

Sometimes, this can be called the egg marking pheromone and helps the nurse bees ensure that the young don’t get mixed up.

The Drone Pheromone

Drones will release this pheromone as a way of attracting other drones. They are then able to share the most appropriate spots for mating with the hive’s queen.

Recognition Pheromone

Sometimes called the brood recognition pheromone, this chemical is released by bees in the larval or pupal stages of life. What’s fascinating is that the nurse bees use this pheromone to determine which larvae are drones and which are worker bees.

The Queen Pheromones

Queen bees are able to release certain pheromones that other members of the hive cannot. These include the queen’s mandibular pheromone and the queen’s retinue pheromone. These help her to effectively communicate with other bees in the hive.


Bees are remarkable in many ways. But one thing that is truly fascinating is how they communicate. One of the ways they do this is by releasing pheromones to send messages to other bees. But a lot of people are concerned about the alarm pheromone that bees release when threatened. This can cause the hive to swarm and you could end up being repeatedly stung.

But what if you accidentally kill a bee? Do bees release pheromones when killed? Fortunately not, you’ll be pretty safe and the only thing bees release when they die is oleic acid which signals that it’s clean-up time for the other hive members.

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