Honey bee colonies can respond to changing environmental conditions by showing plasticity in age related division of labor, and these responses are associated with changes in juvenile hormone. The shift from nest taks to foraging has been especially well characterized; foraging is associated with high juvenile hormone titers and high rates of juvenile hormone biosynthesis, and can be induced prematurely in young bees by juvenile hormone treatment or by a shortage of foragers. However, very few studies have been conducted that study plasticity in division of labor under naturally occurring changes in the environment. To gain further insight into how the environment and juvenile hormone influence foraging behavior, we measured juvenile hormone titers and rates of biosynthesis in workers during times of the year when colony activity in temperate climates is reduced: late fall, winter, and early spring. Juvenile hormone titers and rates of biosynthesis decreased in foragers in the fall as foraging diminished and bees became less active. This demonstration of a natural drop in juvenile hormone confirms and extends previous findings when bees were experimentally induced to revert from foraging to within-hive tasks. In addition, endocrine changes in foragers in the fall are part of a larger seasonally related phenomenon in which juvenile hormone levels in younger, pre-foraging bees also decline in the fall and then increase the following spring as colony activity increases. The seasonal decline in juvenile hormone in foragers was mimicked in summer by placing a honey bee colony in a cold room for 8 days. This suggests that seasonal changes in juvenile hormone are not related to photoperiod changes, but rather to changes in temperature and/or colony social structure that in turn influence endocrine and behavioral development. We also found that active foragers in the late winter and early spring had lower juvenile hormone levels than active foragers in late spring. In light of recent findings of a possible link between juvenile hormone and neuroanatomical plasticity in the bee brain, these results suggest that bees can forage with low juvenile hormone, after previous exposure to some threshold level of juvenile hormone leads to changes in brain structure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18-28
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology B
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1995


  • Corpora allata
  • Honey bee, Apis mellifera
  • Juvenile hormone
  • Seasonal variation
  • Social insects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Endocrinology


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