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J Insect Physiol. 1997 Apr;43(4):373-381.

Caste Determination in Bombus terrestris: Differences in Development and Rates of JH Biosynthesis between Queen and Worker Larvae.

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G.S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, Department of Zoology, Tel Aviv University, 69978 Tel Aviv, Israel


To study the possible role of juvenile hormone in caste determination in Bombus terrestris, we measured development and rates of juvenile hormone biosynthesis in vitro in larvae destined to develop into either workers or queens. Larvae of both castes developed through four instars and had the same growth rates. However, the duration of the instars was longer for queen larvae, and their head width at the third and fourth instars was significantly larger. After validating the well-known radiochemical assay of JH for bumble bee larvae, we show that worker larvae corpora allata exhibited a constant and low rate of JH biosynthesis, never more than 5 pmol JH/h/pair. Queen larvae, in contrast, had two peaks of JH biosynthesis: a small one during the first instar, which has previously been correlated with caste determination; and a large peak, previously undetected, above 40 pmol JH/h/pair, during the second and third instars. We suggest that caste determination in this species is mediated by JH and that the duration of larval instars is a key factor. The possibility that the queen influences caste determination via an effect on instar duration is also discussed.


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