The Nasonov Pheromone

A gland on the tip of the honey bee’s abdomen releases what’s called the Nasonov pheromone, a secretion used by honey bees for orientation and attraction. It’s one of those smells that beekeepers supposedly learn to identify over time along with the smell of honey curing, the smell of the alarm pheromone and so on. To be honest, I don’t know exactly what the Nasonov pheromone smells like. I’m not even sure what the alarm pheromone smells like even though I know right away when the bees are releasing it to the wind. I’ve heard descriptions of various pheromones released by the queen and worker bees, from the smell of ripe bananas to the smell of lemongrass, and I’ve never noticed anything remotely close to those odours emanating from a hive. Maybe my nasal passages are clogged. I don’t know.

In any case, what I assume to be the Nasonov pheromone was thick in the air today. I could smell it an arm’s length from the hives. I took plenty of photos.

Honey bee cranking out the Nasonov pheromone (April 1, 2011).

The bees will hold their ground, stick their butts in the air and beat their wings like crazy. The top entrances were blocked with bees cranking out the Nasonov pheromone today.

Honey bees cranking out the Nasonov pheromone (April 1, 2011).

The bees were crawling all over my toasty warm appendages and loving it. Here’s another bee scenting away:

My backyard thermometer was reading 17°C at one point (63°F), but I don’t believe that. It was definitely the warmest day we’ve had this year and the bees from both hives were out in full force. Here’s a fuzzy young bee hanging out on the bottom board, sitting there beating her wings like there’s no tomorrow:

Honey bee on bottom board (April 1, 2011).

The sound of the bees scenting was intense, like the sound of tiny little chain saws.

If this weather keeps up, the snow will soon be gone and I might be able to begin feeding the bees by next weekend. I love seeing them spring into action like this. I could stay out and watch them all day.

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.

December 2018 Postscript: I’ll eventually write a post that’s more exact about the Nasonov pheromone and the scenting behaviour of honey bees. But I’ll say this: When the bees are holding their ground and beating their wings for any reason, it’s usually one of three things going on:

1) The bees are sending out the Nasanov pheromone to orient other bees to the hive. This often happens after there’s been a disturbance in the hive (usually brought about by humans during a hive inspection). The very last segment of the bees abdomen cracks off at a sharp downward angle to release the pheromone. Like learning how to spot the queen, it’s not difficult once you know what to look for and see it with your own eyes.

2) The bees are sending out an alarm pheromone so other worker bees will quickly shift into a defensive posture (again, usually brought about by humans causing a disturbance). The smell of the alarm pheromone, to my nose, is the easiest to notice because it rapidly fills the air. In this case, the bees, usually at the top of the hive sitting on the top bars, have their butts sticking as straight up and as far up as they can get them — and the stinger pokes out at the end. That should be easy to see. Other than flying into your face, there’s probably no stronger GET OUT HERE signal from the bees.

3) The bees are ventilating the hive, creating an air current to either help regulate the temperature inside the hive for brood rearing or help evaporate nectar into honey, or both. This is fairly easy to spot because the bees really hunker down hard with their bodies bent inwards and beat their wings like crazy. They often form a line outside the entrance to create, I assume, a collectively stronger air current. I don’t think the bees usually bend the last segment of their abdomen when ventilating like they do when they’re giving off the Nasonov or orientation pheromone, and their butts aren’t high in the air with the stingers poking out like they are when they’re giving off the alarm pheromone.

4 thoughts on “The Nasonov Pheromone

  1. Great blog, nice to have so many videos and photos of your beautiful ladies. What would you say the Nasonov pheromone smells like, do you think lemony?

    Best wishes


    • Emily, I just checked out your blog. It’s interesting to see the differences between UK and North American beekeeping techniques. I see that your spring comes earlier than ours too. But otherwise, I think your weather is similar to what we experience in Newfoundland. Wet.

      P.S.: Newfoundland is not part of the US. We’re Canadian. A significant portion of Newfoundland’s population sounds like they’re from Ireland. The Queen is on our money. We use the metric system. We spell ‘colour’ good and proper with a U just like you. That’s definitely not American. Come on!

  2. What would you say the Nasonov pheromone smells like, do you think lemony?

    That’s a good question. I’m sure I could find analysis of the odour through Google, but personally, I can’t tell. It seems different the alarm pheromone. Beyond that, I’m not sure. I’ll have to give it a good whiff the next time I see them going at it.

    It snowed today. Uuuuuh.

  3. Hi Philip.

    Er, that’s embarrassing! Thanks for pointing this out to me, as you can see I have rubbish geographical skills. I’ve corrected my link :)

    We seem to be having a spell of unusually hot weather at the moment, sunshine and temperatures of 20C, but I’m sure the April showers will return soon enough. We’re unlikely to have snow this late though, respect to you and your bees for getting through such conditions!

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