Primer pheromones are thought to act in a variety of vertebrates and invertebrates but only a few have been chemically identified. We report that a blend of ten fatty–acid esters found on the cuticles of honeybee larvae, already known as a kairomone, releaser pheromone and primer pheromone, also act as a primer pheromone in the regulation of division of labour among adult workers. Bees in colonies receiving brood pheromone initiated foraging at significantly older ages than did bees in control colonies in five out of five trials. Laboratory and additional field tests also showed that exposure to brood pheromone significantly depressed blood titres of juvenile hormone. Brood pheromone exerted more consistent effects on age at first foraging than on juvenile hormone, suggesting that the primer effects of this pheromone may occur via other, unknown, mechanisms besides juvenile hormone. These results bring the number of social factors known to influence honeybee division of labour to three: worker–worker interactions, queen mandibular pheromone and brood pheromone.