Can Bees Smell?

Honeybees live in dense colonies. Sometimes as many as 60,000 honeybees will work together to create a successful and thriving hive. Just as with any large group, communication is key. Perhaps the most interesting approach to communication is the bee’s sense of smell. So, can bees smell?

Yes, bees can smell. In fact, they have an incredibly strong sense of smell which they use both to detect flowers but also to communicate through the use of pheromones.

When a honeybee stings you, her stinger gets lodged in your skin. When she goes to fly away, the stinger rips from her body, killing her. However, during this process, the honeybee will release pheromones that alert other bees of the attack.

Bees also use their keen sense of smell to locate food, navigate the world around them, and know when the seasons are changing. 

How Do Bees Smell?

Honeybees are amazing at smelling. In fact, data says that they can smell 50 times better than a dog! And we all know how well a dog can supposedly smell!

This is thanks to 170 odorant receptors in their antennas, which is the most of any insects. For perspective, mosquitos only have 78 receptors and fruit flies have around 52. 

In addition to their antennae receptors, honeybees can also detect scents with their mouths and the tips of their legs. Bees have tiny, hair-like structures in these areas that help relay information to the bee as a sense of smell.

These tiny structures are called sensilla and they are connected to nerve reception cells. 

How Far Can a Bee Smell? 

Bees have a very keen sense of smell. Each hive of bees has its own “smell” that the other bees know and connect with.

Outside the hive, guard bees will smell all the bees returning to the hive. If the bee does not smell like it belongs, the guard bees will spring into action to protect the hive. 

The special hive smell is also how bees find their way home after a long day of foraging.

In addition to listening for the hum of the hive, which bees can hear well thanks to their ability to hear air-borne vibrations, they can smell the pheromones of their hive mates when they are within a few metres of the hive.

Want to Attract Bees to Your Garden?

We’ve Put Together a Complete Guide to Attracting Bees to Your Garden Including Our Top 14 Plants You NEED to Have in Your Garden:

What Odour Attracts Bees? 

If you want to encourage bees to come to your garden, it is a good idea to plant fragrant and bright flowers. Some of the bees’ favourite fragrances come from flowers of phlox, soapwort, honeysuckle, forget-me-nots, jasmine, nasturtium, lilies of the valley, heliotrope and nicotiana.

These plants are incredibly fragrant and will attract lots of activity from bees. 

If you do not want to plant ornamental flowers, bees also are attracted to the smell of certain herbs. Rosemary, borage, sage, thyme, catnip, chamomile, lavender, basil, marjoram, and hyssop all are wonderful herbs to grow to help bring bees to your garden.

Bee balm is a favourite of bees as well. This plant also blooms with a big purple flower. Bees are attracted to purple and blue flowers more than other colours

While planting flowers, be sure to include native plants as well. Planting flowers that are native to your area will attract more bees as they are familiar with the scent of these flowers. 

Wild indigo, Black-eyed Susans, milkweed, goldenrod, foxglove, zinnias, and sunflowers will all also make a great addition to your garden.

Can Bees Smell Fear?

When humans see a bee in their space, they tend to get frightened. After all, a bee sting does hurt pretty bad. Although honeybees rarely sting if not provoked, it can be nerve-wracking to be near them.

Especially when someone tells you to calm down because the bee can “smell fear”. But is it true? But, can bees really smell fear?

Unfortunately, yes, bees can smell fear. This is because bees can smell better than humans, almost 100 times better. Since they have such a keen sense of smell, bees can pick up on pheromones that the body gives off when it is scared.

A bee can take this smell and think a predator is coming or that you are a threat, leading to you getting stung. This is why it’s so important to act calm with a bee around you. If you’re calm then the bee will be calm. And if the bee is calm then there is a reduced risk of being stung.

Can Bees Smell Dead Bees?

Yes, bees can easily detect the smell of a dead bee. Dead bees are bad for the hive so as soon as they smell one, they will act quickly to remove it from the hive.

Do Bees Smell With Their Knees?

Bees do have knees but it’s unlikely that they smell with them. Their main odour receptors are on their antennae but they can also smell with their legs.

Summary

Bees have an amazing sense of smell. Since bees have no language or vocal abilities to communicate with one another, they rely heavily on their other senses.

While a lot of communication through the hive mates is done with vibrations, buzzing, and wing flapping, their sense of smell is another strong communication tool.

Bees can smell 50 times better than dogs and 100 times better than humans.

They use their sense of smell to help navigate the world around them. Whether they are finding flowers to pollinate or finding their way back to the right hive, a bee’s sense of smell provides them with the tools for survival. 


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