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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Dec 14;101(50):17559-64. Epub 2004 Nov 30.

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

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Laboratoire Biologie et Protection de l'Abeille, Unité Mixte de Recherche Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique/Université d'Avignon et des Pays de Vaucluse Ecologie des Invertébrés, Site Agroparc, Domaine Saint-Paul, 84914 Avignon Cedex 9, France.


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.

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