Bees communicate among themselves using pheromones. The ability to monitor the bees’ pheromone communication system would enable beekeepers to understand colony activity at a never-before-achieved level. The chemical environment of the hive is complex, perhaps too complex for there to be a pheromone sensor system in the near future. Nevertheless, the bees themselves manage to sense specific pheromones, and proof-of-concept efforts such as Bovinose, which monitors bovine pheromones, and other “artificial nose” research, indicate that the task is achievable.
Artificial nose research
- BOVINOSE: Pheromone-Based Sensor System for Detecting Estrus in Dairy Cows W. Wiegerincka et al, Procedia Computer Science, 2011
- Electronic Nose: Current Status and Future Trends (PDF document) Frank Rock et al, Chemical Reviews, 2008
The existence of the Cyranose 320 is an indication that interpreting the odors within a beehive is possible. From the manufacturer:
The Cyranose® 320 is a fully-integrated handheld chemical vapor sensing instrument designed specifically to detect and identify complex chemical mixtures that constitute aromas, odors, fragrances, formulations, spills and leaks.
An excellent article summarizing several years of research on volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds in beehive atmospheres can be found here: http://www.crcnetbase.com/doi/abs/10.1201/9780203218655.ch2