It’s fairly common for a honeybee to stray from its colony and check out other hives. When these migrant bees do show up at another buzzing abode, they are met by a group of guard bees that conduct a 30-second inspection, analyzing the visitor's chemical markers. These typically are hive-specific hydrocarbon traces that tell the guards about genetic factors and comb wax related to the visitor. If there are enough chemical similarities, the new bee is allowed to enter. Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia estimate that 30 percent of drifters are allowed to stay.
Who goes there?
- Ten to 15 percent of honeybees in a hive are relegated to guard duty. These bees are typically two to three weeks old. When food is scarce, fewer immigrant bees get in. Guards will turn them away, or just kill them.
- The guards must be on the alert for marauding bees out to swipe honey. “These robber bees are detected by their flight patterns and speed,” a researcher said. “Guards can detect an incoming robber and sting it before it even reaches the nest.”
- Research at the University of Sussex in England has demonstrated that wandering bees that are let into a new hive eventually assimilate quite well, even taking on the chemical makeup of the new hive.