Hunger can make anyone cranky, but it seems a flower's aroma can calm even the most aggressive of honeybees. In a new study, researchers from France and Australia discovered honeybees associate flowers with the promise of food and would much rather snack than commence a stinging attack.
Researchers exposed the bees to various odors, such as lavender, while agitating them with a feathery object. When honeybees sensed the pheromone, they immediately attacked the feathery object. However, they refrained from attack when exposed to flower scents such as lavender. The more appealing the scent was, the more it soothed the bees, researchers say.
Honeybee hives, or colonies, have a queen bee, many drone bees that mate with the queen, and a team of worker bees responsible for foraging, cleaning, and protecting the hive. With having to guard their colony members, workers tend to be the most aggressive, so when threatened these bees emit a scent called a sting-alarm pheromone. This calls other nearby bees into action so they too will prepare to attack the intruder. However, this defense mechanism comes at a cost: Honeybees die after stinging because their stinger is ripped off their body during an attack.
"We certainly see great potential for applications to beekeeping," Morgane Nouvian, first author of the new study and a graduate student at the University of Queensland and the University of Toulouse's Paul Sabatier University, told Live Science. "Developing a product based on our results - for example a scented hand spray [or] cream, or an odor-releasing device to place at the hive entrance -- could certainly help reduce the number of bees stinging while [beekeepers are] handling the hives. This method would be a great alternative to the current use of smoke and repellents, because we would be tricking the bees with something that they actually 'like,' and it would thus likely be less stressful for them."
Their study was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.
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