When a honeybee dies it releases a death pheromone, a characteristic odor that signals the survivors to remove it from the hive. This might seem a supreme final act of social responsibility. The corpse is promptly pushed and tugged out of the hive. The death pheromone is oleic acid [a fairly complex molecule, CH3(CH2)7CH=CH(CH2)7COOH, where = stands for a double chemical bond].
What happens if a live bee is dabbed with a drop of oleic acid?
Then, no matter how strapping and vigorous it might be, it is carried “kicking and screaming” out of the hive. Even the Queen bee, if she’s painted with invisible amounts of oleic acid, will be subjected to this indignity.
Do the bees understand the danger of corpses decomposing in the hive? Are they aware of the connection between death and oleic acid? Do they have any idea what death is? Do they think to check the oleic acid signal against other information, such as healty spontaneous movement? The answer to all these questions is, almost certainly, No. In the life of the hive there’s no way that a bee can give off detectable whiff of oleic acid other than by dying. Elaborate contemplative machinery is unnecessary. Their perceptions are adequate for their needs.
Ann Druyan & Carl Sagan, Shadows Of Forgotten Ancestors: Who Are We?, What Thin Partitions