Regulation of behavioral maturation by a primer pheromone produced by adult worker honey bees

Isabelle Leoncini, Yves Le Conte, Guy Costagliola, Erika Plettner, Amy L. Toth, Mianwei Wang, Zachary Huang, Jean Marc Bécard, Didier Crauser, Keith N. Slessor, Gene E. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous research showed that the presence of older workers causes a delayed onset of foraging in younger individuals in honey bee colonies, but a specific worker inhibitory factor had not yet been identified. Here, we report on the identification of a substance produced by adult forager honey bees, ethyl oleate, that acts as a chemical inhibitory factor to delay age at onset of foraging. Ethyl oleate is synthesized de novo and is present in highest concentrations in the bee's crop. These results suggest that worker behavioral maturation is modulated via trophallaxis, a form of food exchange that also serves as a prominent communication channel in insect societies. Our findings provide critical validation for a model of self-organization explaining how bees are able to respond to fragmentary information with actions that are appropriate to the state of the whole colony.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17559-17564
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number50
StatePublished - Dec 14 2004


  • Apis mellifera
  • Chemical communication
  • Division of labor
  • Social insects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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