Cranking Out The Nasonov Pheromone

Here’s quick video of the honey bees in my backyard doing the Nasonov Boogie. Yesterday I said, “The sound of the bees scenting was intense, like the sound of tiny little chain saws.” Check it out:

The end of the video when it goes back to normal speed may not be 100% normal speed. During the slow-mo section, you can almost see the wings beating. I was able to slow it down even further on my computer, but the wings beating still only showed up as a blur. They crank it up a notch when they’re fanning like that.

Anyway, the pheromone is also used to orient the bees to food and water sources, but this early in the year when snow is still on the ground (it snowed again today) and 15°C is not a daily occurrence, I’d say it’s mostly for orientating the young foraging bees on their maiden flights.

I recommend The Biology of The Honey Bee, by Mark L. Winston for more info on the importance of pheromones in a honey bee colony (and a whole lot more).

April 3rd, 2011: I’m adding this video of Hive #1 recorded at the same time for my own records so I can use it for comparisons next year.

Nasonov is sometimes spelled Nasanov. Tomato, potato. Let’s call the whole thing off. Also: They could be fanning to ventilate the hive. However, judging from the strong smell of pheromones in the air and how many of them were fanning with their bodies bent in areas and at angles that probably wouldn’t create a current inside the hives, orientation scenting seems just as likely. But who knows.

April 6th, 2011: Let’s take a closer look at a screen shot from the video:

Nasonov Fanning

I have a few reasons to think the bees were cranking out the Nasonov pheromone for the young bees on their maiden orientation flights. The unusual odour and the sound of it for starters. But the main reason I didn’t think it was regular fanning for ventilation was the haphazard position of most of the bees. Many of them, if they were trying to create an air current inside the hive, were pointing in the wrong direction. Bee #1 in the photo has a good abdomen twist on the go and is close to the entrance, so it could be scenting or ventilating. Bee #3 could even be ventilating, though most bees I’ve seen ventilating the hive point into the entrance. And bee #2 hasn’t got a chance of ventilating the hive. Does a bee need to stick its butt in the air to send out the Nasonov pheromone? I don’t know. But they were twisting their abdomens up and down enough to make me think that’s what they were up to. So that’s my best guess.

May 9th, 2011: Check out The Aftermath of Moving a Hive video to see honey bees sending out the Nasonov pheromone en masse.

December 2018 Postscript: I would prefer to rewrite (and sometimes delete) many of these older posts so I don’t look like a clueless dolt half the time, though to be honest, that’s a fairly accurate description of most beekeepers for the first two or three years (I’m looking at me here). But I have to say, many of the comments from these earlier posts — before my neighbors forced me to move my bees and when I posted on a regular basis and had a regular flow of readers and commenters — those comments are good. I’ve learned as much from the comments on this blog as I have from most of the online forums I used to read. So the point is, I’m keeping this one for the comments.

15 thoughts on “Cranking Out The Nasonov Pheromone

  1. I could be wrong but this looks like a classic example of fanning, nasanov fanning they poke their buts in the air more, if it warms up a lot during the day condensation can be an issue my guess is they are trying to dehumidify the hive, fairly normal activity. So hard to wait for a flow to watch the bees bring in pollen, our forecast is all above 0 at night and getting warmer during the day. I remember last year pulling bees out of a wall at the end of april so 1/2 through should be some flow.

    • I could be wrong but this looks like a classic example of fanning, nasanov fanning they poke their buts in the air more…

      I thought of that, but most the bees were fanning with their butts in the air, their so bodies severely bent, it was kind of funny. I just didn’t get many good shots of it. But who knows. It could be regular fanning too. I’ll make a note of that possibility in the video. Either way, they seem to be okay, so I’m too worried.

      We’ve got some warm (but wet) weather for the next few days. I hope it washes all the snow away. Then it’s supposed to get cold again. But I’m hoping by mid-April to feed the colonies to get them jump started — if the temperatures stay above freezing.

  2. Hive #1 has been active all day today, bees coming and going from the both the top and bottom entrances. I don’t see them clearing out any dead bees. They’re flying more like foraging bees, not circling the hive but coming in from long distances, a moderate but constant stream of bees leaving the bottom entrance and landing in the top entrance. I see them flying all around the yard. It seems odd because it’s only 5°C today, the ground is still full of snow, and the hive is in the shade (I’m watching it now at 3:50pm). This is the same hive that shut down dramatically last September.

    Hive #2 shows no signs of life, though I see bees through the top entrance. The bottom board on Hive #2 is also very wet. Looks like that leak a few weeks ago was significant. I’ll be glad when I can put those bees in brand new dry boxes with a new bottom board.

    I may install top hive feeders soon.

  3. “Does a bee need to stick its butt in the air to send out the Nasonov pheromone?”

    Yep, sticking their bums in the air reveals the Nasonov gland and exposes its scent to the air. Fanning then helps disperse the scent.

    The Nasonov pheromone is also used by scout bees to mark their chosen new home after swarming. It assists the swarm in arriving gracefully at their new location.

    Glad its warmed up a bit for you guys.

  4. It was suggested that the bees may have been ventilating the hive, but I have no doubt now they were scenting. I’ve been watching them enough and I can tell their bodies don’t get nearly as bent when they’re simply ventilating.

      • Yeah, 15°C isn’t exactly stifling heat. I suppose there could have been some condensation build up if the temperature quickly went up to 15°C, but I don’t think so. Their bodies were bent, their butts were in the air — they were scenting. And I could smell it in the air.

          • I can’t remember what it smells like but it was very strong the day I took these photos and the video. (I think we’ve already had this conversation.)

            In the first comment for this post, I see now it was Sam who suggested the bees might be ventilating the hive to help remove condensation. That’s not a bad guess considering how quickly condensation can build up in the hive when the temperature rises quickly. I’m certain the bees were scenting, but they could have been scenting as well as ventilating. Why not?

            Now that we’ve settled that controversy, our active spring bees have had to deal with some seriously cool weather in the past week or so, and they’re not so active anymore. It’s below freezing today and cool temperatures are forecast for the rest of the week along with plenty of freezing rain.

            We were hoping to do out first full hive inspection this past weekend. We’re concerned that Hive #1, the active hive, could be on the verge of swarming. We need to check it as soon as possible so we can give the queen more room to lay.

            • Sorry, hadn’t realised it was you I asked about the smell before!

              You guys really have it hard with your weather. We’ve had an unusually hot spring here and are currently enjoying temps of 15-18C after highs of 27C a couple of weeks ago. Have so much respect for your bees.

  5. I have heard from a mentor that fanning can sometimes signify the location of the queen. Anyone else know about this or have observed it?

    • I don’t think Nasonov fanning signifies the exact location of the queen, but usually the general location of the queen, as in, “She’s inside the hive! Everybody in!”

  6. When I introduced a new caged queen to a queenless hive, many of the bees set themselves to Nasonov fanning, repeated it when she was released 3 days later. Some on the cage, some on the frames, some on top the inner cover around the center cutout.

  7. That makes sense. They usually scent like this to either reorient after some kind of disturbance and/or to signal the general location of the queen, as if to say, “We’ve got a nice healthy queen here. Come on inside and join us.” Scenting after introducing a new queen fits into that.

    Scenting and fanning are some of the most interesting things bees do. Whenever I see it, I wonder what triggered that behaviour.

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