Juvenile hormone regulates metamorphosis in insects, and its effects on the nervous system during the larval-pupal transition have been studied primarily in the hawk moth, Manduca sexta.The effects of juvenile hormone on the nervous system of adult insects have been little studied. Elucidating the role of juvenile hormone during behavioral development in adult honey bees provides an opportunity to study hormone regulation of nervous system structure and function in an insect with a rich behavioral repertoire and social life. A worker honey bee typically lives 30–60 days. During this time, she performs a sequence of different tasks that sustain the colony. A striking behavioral transition typically occurs at about 3 weeks of age. At this time, worker bees stop performing within-hive tasks such as rearing brood and building comb and begin to forage outside the hive. This behavioral development is accompanied by a marked increase in the production of juvenile hormone. The mushroom bodies of the protocerebrum, the region of the insect brain most often associated with learning and memory, also undergo an internal reorganization during behavioral development. High titers of juvenile hormone and an increased volume of neuropil associated with the mushroom bodies are characteristic of the forager. Importantly, the time of the behavioral transition to foraging is not fixed. Individual bees can respond to changing colony or environmental conditions by accelerating or delaying the switch from within-hive tasks to foraging. For example, in the absence of older workers, some bees will undergo precocious development and may forage as early as 4 days of age. These workers also experience a precocious rise in juvenile hormone and an earlier reorganization of the mushroom bodies. Our current studies investigate the roles played by juvenile hormone and experience in shaping the mushroom bodies of the adult honey bee, and the relationship of these changes to the bee's ability to forage successfully. It is proposed that juvenile hormone may mediate neural plasticity in the brains of adult honey bees to support the demanding cognitive task of foraging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)102-114
Number of pages13
JournalDevelopmental Neuroscience
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 1996


  • Age polyethism
  • Apis mellifera
  • Corpora allata
  • Corpora pedunculata
  • Methoprene
  • Mushroom bodies
  • Social insects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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