A family of small molecules called ascarosides act as pheromones to control multiple behaviors in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. At picomolar concentrations, a synergistic mixture of at least three ascarosides produced by hermaphrodites causes male-specific attraction. At higher concentrations, the same ascarosides, perhaps in a different mixture, induce the developmentally arrested stage known as dauer. The production of ascarosides is strongly dependent on environmental conditions, although relatively little is known about the major variables and mechanisms of their regulation. Thus, male mating and dauer formation are linked through a common set of small molecules whose expression is sensitive to a given microenvironment, suggesting a model by which ascarosides regulate the overall life cycle of C. elegans.