Honeybees defend their colonies aggressively against intruders and release a potent alarm pheromone to recruit nestmates into defensive tasks. The effect of floral odours on this behaviour has never been studied, despite the relevance of these olfactory cues for the biology of bees. Here we use a novel assay to investigate social and olfactory cues that drive defensive behaviour in bees. We show that social interactions are necessary to reveal the recruiting function of the alarm pheromone and that specific floral odours—linalool and 2-phenylethanol—have the surprising capacity to block recruitment by the alarm pheromone. This effect is not due to an olfactory masking of the pheromone by the floral odours, but correlates with their appetitive value. In addition to their potential applications, these findings provide new insights about how honeybees make the decision to engage into defence and how conflicting information affects this process.
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