The free-living soil nematodeCaenorhabditis elegans forms a nonfeeding dispersal stage at the second molt called the dauer larva when exposed to environmental cues indicating crowding and limited food. An improved bioassay, tenfold more sensitive than that used previously, has been used in the characterization of the two chemical cues which act competitively in controlling this developmental process. The pheromone concentration provides a measure of the population density; it enhances dauer larva formation, and inhibits recovery (exit) from the dauer stage. The pheromone is a family of related molecules which are nonvolatile, very stable, and possess physical and Chromatographie properties similar to those of hydroxylated fatty acids and bile acids. A food signal, with effects on development opposite those of the pheromone, is produced by bacteria, and is also present in yeast extract. In contrast to the pheromone, the food signal is a labile substance which is neutral and hydrophilic.