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Insect Biochem Mol Biol. 2002 Feb;32(2):211-6.

Ecdysteroid titer and reproduction in queens and workers of the honey bee and of a stingless bee: loss of ecdysteroid function at increasing levels of sociality?

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  • 1Departamento de Biologia, FFCLRP - Universidade de São Paulo, Av. Bandeirantes 3900, 14040-901 Ribeirão Preto, SP, Brazil.


Evidence from field wasps and bumblebees appoints the endocrine system as a mediator between dominance status and ovarian activity in primitively social Hymenoptera. In this comparative study on ecdysteroid titers in the highly social honey bee, Apis mellifera, and a stingless bee, Melipona quadrifasciata, we focussed on the relationship between the ecdysteroid titer, social conditions (presence or absence of the queen), and ovary activity. In contrast to bumblebees, ecdysteroid titers in honey bee and stingless bee workers were either not altered, or dropped to even lower levels after the queen was removed. We also did not detect differences between virgin queens and mated, egg laying queens. These results suggest that ecdysteroids may have lost most of their reproductive functions - yet gained functions in larval caste differentiation - as higher levels of social organization were attained in the evolution of social insects. The observation that ecdysteroid titers are transiently elevated in young workers adds a new, yet functionally still speculative facet to hormonal regulation in insect societies.

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