A striking example of plasticity in life span is seen in social insects such as ants and bees, where different castes may display distinct ageing patterns. In particular, the honeybee offers an intriguing illustration of environmental control on ageing rate. Honeybee workers display a temporal division of labour where young bees (or 'hive bees') perform tasks within the brood nest, and older bees forage for nectar, pollen propolis and water. When bees switch from the hive bee to the forager stage, their cellular defence machinery is down-regulated by a dramatic reduction in the number of functioning haemocytes (immunocytes). This study documents that the yolk precursor vitellogenin is likely to be involved in a regulatory pathway that controls the observed decline in somatic maintenance function of honeybee foragers. An association between the glyco-lipoprotein vitellogenin and immune function has not previously been reported for any organism. Honeybee workers are functionally sterile, and via the expression of juvenile hormone, a key gonotrophic hormone in adult insects, their vitellogenin levels are influenced by social interactions with other bees. Our results therefore suggest that in terms of maintenance of the cellular immune system, senescence of the honeybee worker is under social control.