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J Insect Physiol. 2005 Jul;51(7):811-23.

Reproductive division of labor, dominance, and ecdysteroid levels in hemolymph and ovary of the bumble bee Bombus terrestris.

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  • 1Department of Evolution, Systematics, and Ecology, The Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, 91904 Israel.


To determine whether ecdysteroids are associated with reproductive division of labor in Bombus terrestris, we measured their levels in hemolymph and ovaries of queens and workers. Queens heading colonies had large active ovaries with high ecdysteroid content, whereas virgin gynes and mated queens before and after diapause had undeveloped ovaries with low ecdysteroid content. The hemolymph ecdysteroid titer was rather variable, but in a pooled analysis of mated queens before and after diapause versus colony-heading queens, ecdysteroid titers were higher in the latter group. In workers, agonistic behavior, ovarian activity, ovarian ecdysteroid content, and hemolymph ecdysteroid titers were positively correlated, and were lowest when a queen was present. In queenless workers, ecdysteroid levels were elevated in dominant workers, and were also influenced by the presence of brood and by group demography; hormone levels were higher in bees kept in larger groups. These findings are consistent with the premise that in B. terrestris the ovary is the primary site of ecdysteroid synthesis, and they show that ecdysteroids levels vary with the social environment.

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