Navigate / search

What is open-brood pheromone?

Open-brood pheromone is just like it sounds, a pheromone given off by uncapped brood. Actually, at least two types of  pheromone are released by open brood and together they allow the brood to regulate and control the actions of the nurse bees. Sounds backwards, but it’s true: the brood controls the workers.

For example, brood ester pheromone (BEP) increases protein production in workers, inhibits worker ovaries, and regulates the capping of brood cells. Another brood pheromone called E-β-ocimene, regulates the activities of workers, managing the nurse-to-forager ratio. According to a recent paper by Maisonnasse, Alban et al., “The production of two different types of pheromones by the larvae, gives a powerful signal to adjust all workers for colony tasks, especially larval care.”

In comparison, BEP is produced by larvae that are four to five days old and is disseminated by larva-to-bee and bee-to-bee contact. E-β-Ocimene is produced by larvae that are newly hatched to about three days old and is volatile, disseminated quickly throughout the nest atmosphere.

From a practical standpoint, open brood can be used to suppress worker ovaries in a colony that has become queenless. After a colony loses the queen, the amount of open brood soon decreases and then disappears. Without open-brood pheromone to suppress the worker ovaries, some of the workers will begin to lay unfertilized eggs which will mature into drones.

The addition of a frame of open brood every week can effectively suppress the worker ovaries until a new queen can be introduced. Some beekeepers have even been able to reverse a laying worker colony by adding open brood for several weeks. Eventually, after the worker ovaries are suppressed, the colony can raise a new queen from the introduced larvae.

Chemical communication in a beehive is complex and surprising, but learning to use the information can be a real trip.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

laying_worker
Multiple eggs per cell is evidence of laying workers. Photo by Michael Palmer/Beesource.com.

Comments

Julie Lauletta
Reply

I appreciate your explanations so much. I wish I’d read this post before I asked you about working layers and how they occur.

Rusty
Reply

That’s okay. It’s complicated.

Patrick
Reply

So drone brood does not produce BEP? I guess not, because there’ll be plenty of open drone brood in a laying worker hive.

Rusty
Reply

Patrick,

I don’t know if drone brood produces the pheromones, but see my answer to Art, below.

Art
Reply

“Looks like Orc mischief to me!” … that is to say looks like fuzzy math to me (which is probably appropriate in the case of bees). I guess I just failed to follow the reasoning behind it. The queen stops laying eggs, that in turn gradually decreases the amount of open brood, which in turn produces laying workers , which in turn start laying unfertilized eggs, which in turn produce open brood (even if it is just drone brood). See where I’m going with it. The process should be self terminating or at best periodical if the effect of open brood are as they are described. I’m not trying to argue, I’m just trying to understand.

Rusty
Reply

Art,

This is a good question. I’ve re-read the article and I don’t see a clear answer in there. But this is what I think, for what it’s worth. By the time you get laying workers, all the worker brood has hatched because it usually takes at least three weeks, often longer, before laying workers develop. So now you have laying workers, old workers, and drone brood in the hive. I don’t know if drone brood produces the pheromones, but even it does, it won’t be effective.

Remember, the volatile pheromone E-β-Ocimene has a large effect on the nurse/forager ratio. Since drones neither nurse nor forage, it won’t affect them. The other pheromone, BEP, is instrumental in suppressing worker ovaries but it is disseminated by contact. Since drones don’t feed nurses, they don’t have contact with the larvae, so they can’t disseminate the pheromone. The worker “queens” are busy laying eggs, so they won’t be feeding larva either, and hence they can’t disseminate the pheromone. The only bees left to disseminate the pheromone are the few old nurse bees that still remain, and these are dying off. So I don’t believe the level of pheromone circulating in the hive would be high enough to suppress the existing laying workers.

Anyway, if I can’t find any other information, I will contact the author and ask.

Rusty
Reply

Art,

Another thought. Let’s say enough open-brood pheromone was produced by the drones to suppress the laying workers. Then what? Since the colony can’t raise a real queen, it will die in any case. So, yes, the process is self-terminating whether drone brood produces the pheromone or not.

phil gladding
Reply

Rusty: I really enjoy this site. The first thing I do every morning is make a cup of coffee and turn on the pc to see what you have posted. Been doing this for 18 months and never deleted anything. Keep up the good work and thanks. Phil

Rusty
Reply

Phil,

Thank you so much. It’s that kind of compliment that keeps me going day to day.

Art
Reply

Naturally the end result of a colony with a laying worker is dwindling of the colony to nothing. But that’s not what I was referring to when I was talking about self terminating process. If you look at the process step by step you get:

1. Queen dies
2. Three weeks later a laying worker develops.
3 Let’s say, it takes another week for the laying worker to lay enough eggs to have sufficient quantity of brood to have some significant pheromone effect (if there is any to be had with drone brood).

Assuming that it was a pretty strong colony to begin with, four weeks later there is still plenty of the nurse bees to distribute the pheromone. Now, if you can reverse the laying worker by introducing at this point open brood frames into the colony, the already existing open brood in the colony should have the same effect (or at least the same chances) to reverse the laying worker (unless the drone brood doesn’t produce the pheromone).

Rusty
Reply

Art,

One of the problems is that you usually don’t have one laying worker, but a hundred or perhaps two hundred. Many of the remaining workers are not eligible to be nurses any more. I’m not saying you are wrong. I think it may all hinge on whether or not drone brood produces the pheromones.

Art
Reply

I tend to think in the practical terms. So to me this article (aside from learning something new) is interesting also from the point of view of solving a problem of a laying worker. If her own brood can suppress a laying worker I could just introduce a new queen after I see laying worker brood and the problem is solved. The new queen starts laying, the laying worker is suppressed – everybody is happy.

Patrick
Reply

Michael Bush recommends:

“The only other really practical method, in my opinion, is to add a frame of open brood every week until they rear a queen. Usually by the second or third frame of open brood they will start queen cells.”

That would suggest that worker brood can suppress laying workers.

Rusty
Reply

Patrick,

Yes, without a doubt open worker brood suppresses laying workers. That was what the post was about. The question we are debating is whether open drone brood can suppress laying workers.

Bill Castro
Reply

Hey Rusty, regarding the above picture… I have had newly mated queens laying multiple eggs in cells for about a month. It always seems to correct after a period of time. Some of these new queens go on to become monstrous colonies in the second year. I wonder if these queens have highly developed ovaries…

Rusty
Reply

Hi Bill,

You’re right. I should have mentioned that new queens often go through a phase of laying multiple eggs. It reminds me of new laying hens that often produce double or triple-yolked eggs. Probably too many hormones!

ellen
Reply

Hi Rusty,

How then does one distinguish between a ‘turbo-charged’ queen laying multiple eggs/cell and laying workers with multiple, disorderly deposited eggs/cell. Is it only when the brood gets capped that one can tell the difference? Are there any clues before that? In other words, did I shake out a hive with a perfectly fine queen yesterday?

With another failed attempt to make a split and have them raise their own queen, I was also trying to wrap my head around the fact that (even abundant) open drone brood does not seem to suppress the egg laying by workers in that nuc.
Good discussion. Thanks for the excellent blog!

Rusty
Reply

Ellen,

A new queen will lay multiple eggs only for a few days before she falls into a normal pattern. In any case, a queen lays her eggs in the bottom of the cell in the center. Laying workers have much shorter abdomens than queens, so they can’t reach all the way down. Consequently, their eggs end up on the walls of the cell, or on the bottom near the wall. Also, laying workers will lay in cells containing pollen, and a queen won’t do that.

John from Leeds
Reply

From the bees’ point of view, if the queen is dead and can’t be replaced, at least a number of drones means that, as they wander around other hives, they have a chance of reproducing, so their birth hive has one last chance to spread its genes.

Leave a comment

name*

email* (not published)

website