Can Bees Smell?


Bees support around 80% of pollination across the globe, including the pollination of our crops. With bees so drawn to flowers and plants, does this mean they can smell?

Bees can smell, they have a powerful sense of smell, much more intense than other insects, such as fruit flies and mosquitoes. Bees can smell food, each other, their hive, their queen, danger, and even their young. Some bees have even been trained as sniffer bees.

Bees’ sense of smell is crucial to their survival. The following article explains what bees can smell, how they use their sense of smell to survive, and whether they can smell humans or not. I’ll also look at the queen bee’s scent and how bees use their sense of smell to care for their young.

Page Contents

Do Bees Have a Sense of Smell?

Bees have a high-intensity sense of smell, with 170 odorant receptors (ORs). Compared to mosquitoes and fruit flies, which have 79 and 62 ORs, respectively, bees have a much better sense of smell than other insects. Indeed, bees use their sense of smell in almost every aspect of their lives.

What Are Olfactory Receptors?

In humans, olfactory receptors sit on tiny hair cells and neurons, and they send signals to the brain to help you process a scent. However, in insects, the ORs are located on the antennae and any other chemoreceptive cells. These cells report information to the central nervous system. 

What Do Bees Use Smell For?

Bees use smell for a wide range of things, such as:

  • Finding food
  • Reproduction
  • Defending their hive
  • Raising their young
  • Keeping the hive clean
  • Communicating with each other

Humans have even found a way to utilize a bee’s sense of smell. Teams in areas of conflict have managed to train bees to detect landmines by smell. There’s a great video on sniffer bees by AP Archive here: 

Despite smell being their most vital sense, bees have all the other senses, too: sight, taste, and hearing (although they don’t have ears). To find out more about bee senses, I recommend Bees: Their Vision, Chemical Senses, and Language by Nobel-Prize-winning scientist Karl von Frisch. It’s available from Amazon and is written by an expert biologist. It’s available for Kindle so that you can get started right away. 

Can Bees Smell Sugar?

Since sugar is sweet, like nectar, bees are attracted to it. Sugar may not offer the same scent trails as pollen, but it will still smell like food to a bee. Many beekeepers feed their bees on sugar water during the colder months, although syrup is much less nutritious for bees than fresh nectar.

Can Bees Smell Humans?

There is currently no evidence that bees can smell humans. However, bees are curious and will come over to check you out, especially if they think you’re threatening their hive. Bees like bright colors, so if you’re wearing something vibrant, you might attract them. Also, if you have food or flowers nearby, or even on your clothes or skin, bees will come for the food.

Can Bees Smell Each Other?

Colonies depend on smell to communicate, amongst many other things. Beehives have a ‘family scent’ that all the bees in the colony smell like. This scent is linked to the queen and labels each bee as belonging to that hive. Bees who don’t smell right are driven off as intruders, even if they’ve just been away a while and have lost the scent.

Does the Queen Bee Smell?

Queens release sex pheromones to let other bees know she is ready to breed. They will also release a scent that associates every bee in the colony with her and her hive. When worker bees go out to forage, their hive scent lets bees from other colonies know that they have a queen and their colony is doing well. 

Can Bees Smell Flowers?

Smelling food is a fundamental way that bees use their sense of smell. They can even follow trails of scent to patches of flowers. Bees will also release pheromones to tell other bees in their hive where the food is. The bees you see outside are female, as the male bees tend to stay in the hive to protect the queen and breed with her.

Can Bees Smell Death?

Bees can smell a dead colony member and prefer to remove it from their hive quickly to avoid spreading disease. They can also smell sickness and infection and will toss sick bees out of the hive too. Dead bees release oleic acid, which the rest of the colony can smell, so it alerts them to the death of a bee. 

Can Bees Smell Danger?

Most bees will release alarm pheromones to alert other bees of danger or a threat to their hive. Bees can also pick up these pheromones as a scent. Alarm pheromones are also released when a bee stings a human or animal. Most social insects emit some form of alarm pheromones when they feel threatened.

Can Bees Smell Their Babies?

Nurse bees can tell when bee larvae need feeding based on a pheromone that the babies give off. However, dead or dying bee larvae also release the same pheromone. Bees are drawn to the nursery to tend larvae (whether for feeding or in death) by smell. 

What Smells Do Bees Hate?

Bees dislike cinnamon and peppermint. However, many plants will repel bees, such as:

  • Cucumber
  • Basil
  • Geranium
  • Wormwood
  • Eucalyptus

If you have a bee issue and need an excellent repellant, try this BRISON Ultrasonic Pest Repellant from Amazon. It works on most pests and works by driving them away from your home, so you don’t even end up with lots of dead insects to clean up. It’s safe for children and pets, too.

What Are Sniffer Bees?

Some bees have been trained as sniffer bees and help detect unexploded landmines or bombs. Scientists train bees with food-based rewards, such as a sweet meal in exchange for finding TNT. Bees have such a strong sense of smell they are beginning to replace dogs in the sniffer industry. 

Can Bees Taste?

Bees do have a sense of taste, but it is deficient in comparison to other insects. Because bees have such an excellent sense of smell, they never evolved a superb sense of taste. We use our sense of taste to warn us about rotten, poisonous, bitter, or uncooked food. However, a bee’s sense of smell has already warned it about its food before it gets to its mouth.

Also, all plant species rely on bees to pollinate them, so they don’t have any defenses against bees, like a bad taste or poison.

Can Bees Hear?

Although bees don’t have ears, they can still pick up on some sounds. In the 1990s, scientists successfully trained bees to turn left or right depending on the sound. It still isn’t clear how bees hear, but some theories suggest they use their antennae or even their legs to pick up vibrations.

Can Bees See?

Bees do have a vision, but they don’t see in the same color spectrums as humans do. They can’t see the color red, but they can see the ultraviolet range (which we can’t). Bees also see something called Bee’s Purple, a mix of yellow and ultraviolet light. Humans cannot see Bee’s Purple. 

Final Thoughts

In this article, I have explained some of the ways bees use their sense of smell. Bees can smell food like sugar, flowers, each other, their queen, their hive, and even death and disease. Adult bees respond to their larvae via their sense of smell, which can be crucial to maintaining their colony. I have also looked at bees being trained as sniffer dogs and whether bees can taste or not. 

Jan

Hey there, I'm Jan! Bees are my passion since I was a little kiddo. My grandpa always said that passing knowledge to new people is the most honorable and meaningful thing to do. So here I am, passing my knowledge to you. Protect the bee, respect the bee!

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