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  • Writer's pictureCJ Turner

How do Bees Know Which Hive is Theirs

How do Bees Know Their Fellow Hive-Mates

Honey bee robbing is the unfortunate and often deadly phenomenon of bees from another stronger hive “robbing” honey stores from a weaker hive to ensure the success of their colony. This behavior can be identified by just watching the entrance of the hive, through observing irregular flight patterns, or fighting near the hive entrance. But how do the bees know who to defend against?

According to Science Daily, the answer is through specific chemical cues within the bee’s gut microbiome that connect and alert bees to their fellow hive-mates.

The gut microbiome is the combination of bacteria (healthy and unhealthy) within an individual’s gut. There is an abundance of research on the human gut microbiome and its relation to many things including psychology, but that is another story for another blog.

This finding is revolutionary in that it was previously known that honey bees attribute common skin compounds (cuticular hydrocarbons) to their individual hive. However, now we know that these cuticular hydrocarbons are derived from the bee’s gut microbiome and not hive-specific genetics (Vernier C. L., Chin, I. M., Adu-Oppong, B., Krupp, J. J., Levine J., et. al., 2020).

Therefore, we can determine that each collective hive of bees has the same recognizable gut microbiome.

Another important finding from this study, was that the scientists were able to manipulate the bee’s microbiome by altering bacteria within the bee’s environment, so that they would be recognized as a member of another hive (Vernier, C. L., et. al., 2020).

Studies such as this are essential as scientists continue to further research into the social behavior of bees as to prevent situations such as robbing. Every day I learn more and more about these amazing creatures, and I hope, after reading this, you can appreciate them a little more too.


Cassondra L. Vernier, Iris M. Chin, Boahemaa Adu-Oppong, Joshua J. Krupp, Joel Levine, Gautam Dantas, Yehuda Ben-Shahar. The gut microbiome defines social group membership in honey bee colonies. Science Advances, 2020; 6 (42): eabd3431 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd3431

Washington University in St. Louis. (2020, October 14). 'Honey bee, it's me'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 29, 2020 from

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