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Where does a hives odour come from?


I’m wondering where a hives odour comes from. I’m currently uniting bees from sometimes 5 different hives, they unite well in a strange box as long as I stagger the frames & keep roughly equal numbers of bees. I got to thinking about a hives odour. I wondered if the odour was genetic, then I wondered what happens when you add a frame of brood or mix bees with different genetics. I started to wonder if the odour came from the honey they are bringing in, then I started to think if it was that, all hives on the same honey flow should have roughly the same odour. I’m sure I’d be able to safely unite bees from 30-40 different hives, as they start to bring honey in, they’d all be accepted. If the odour is genetic, the guard bees would have to remember 30-40 different odours. Maybe I’ve got too much spare time, but I think it’s worth thinking about.


From the flowers - many flowers have Strong odour or perfume but all food has flavour of some sort.

It stands to reason the hive smells of what has been foraged - it’s like when you cook fish at home - it can smell fishy for a couple of days if you don’t put the extractor fan on


I agree, however you could have a hundred hives in a yard with the bees all visiting the same flowers with each hive having it’s own individual odour, any bees entering the wrong hive without bringing in a load of honey will be evicted, that’s how I understand it to be.


The Queens Pheromone will make a difference but we do not have the olfactory powers to detect it. We can only smell the flower residues


The composition of the cuticular wax on the surface of bees is not the same for each bee and is genetically determined.Bees can distinguish full sisters from half sisters by the odour of their cuticle. Bees also pick up elements of the comb wax and the queen pheromone that is spread from bee to bee by trophylaxis. Bees lay chemical markers on the comb for dancers and these are absorbed also, they fade daily and are renewed as new dances are made. All these summate to become the unique colony odour. Guard bees can detect this with their antennae some distance away. Foreigners can however bribe their way in with nectar.
Actually, very little use is made of floral fragrances in creating an individual colony odour.
You can easily unite frames of bees, e.g. when making up nucs, if the bees are sourced from three hives or more. The array of different hive odours and the sudden absence of their usual dance floors confuses them so they do not fight.
If you want to be doubly sure there are no casualties you can lightly spray them with something overwhelming like air freshener and by the time this has been eliminated they have sorted themselves out.


Wow, thanks Danger, that’s fantastic. It’s more complex than I ever imagined. The good thing is it works, cheers:)


If you want to know a little more about how bees work and you don’t want to trawl through meaningless scientific papers here are two excellent books
The Buzz about Bees by Jürgen Tautz and Honeybee Democracy by Thomas Seeley. Add them to your Christmas list but don’t get them on e-readers as you lose the photos.


Many thanks Danger, I’ll write those down. I learned a lot through the “abc to xyz of bee culture”, also that 20 minute video “the city of bees”, it’s incredible how much information they were able to portray in that 20 minute video. I have another question. If a man is in a forest, on his own, working his bees, is he still wrong? I often think of that question while working my bees. Anyway, if we make a mistake, knowing how to fix it & put things right & quickly, is the main thing.


I think the whole thing is fascinating and I’m so pleased that somebody has researched it.
Did you know that bees waggle on dance floors and that these are fixed in the hive. You can cut away these floors and move them. The bees will, rather than dancing where they used to, follow the chemical markers to find the old floors and go there.


Wow, no I never knew that. I have my portable observation hive to show people what goes on inside a hive, they just seem to waggle where they’re going to get an audience. I have them building on foundationless frames. I have 3 frames on one level, the middle one is foundation & the outside ones are foundationless. I have perspex sides that are screwed in semi-permanent & ply covers held on with two screws to remove for viewing. I have an entrance on both ends. I can look at one side with one entrance open, then turn it around to look at the other side, close one entrance & open the other. The queen is fairly new & the progeny of one of my crankiest hives. All the bees are her progeny. With the small population, they seem ok so far. She mated a fair way from the original area so she might have found calm drones to mate with. It’s sitting on my back verandah where I walk past real close all the time. I’ll talk to you later, bye


Hi Jeff,
Sometimes I must have too much spare time on my hands but I wander through the forum from time to time and pick upon things that I have not read, Wow what an interesting few posts in this lot.
The first thing I notice getting close to the hive is it odour. Its like sweet and honey I know, but it is different from other hives I have been near.
The more I sit and watch the more I am intrigued. Who makes the decision “This entrance is too narrow, you you and you eat away till its fixed, And who says you you and you get out there and (talking about odours, gord I have just burnt the snags for tea) get pollen, not nectar now, just pollen,. And who says you you and you are on cleaning duties today …” those cells have got to be re waxed and spotless chop chop" The more you know the more you don’t know. You just got to say Wow you bees are the best.

I just had a thought… This is not our world where girls are over worked and under paid, it is the bee world the the species survives on girl power.


I had to look that Aussie slang word up! I am sure a little honey mustard would cover up any burnt flavour… :blush:


More like tomato sauce (ketchup)

Wifey back next week. Thank goodness.