Systems have been developed to monitor the direct effects of insect growth regulator (IGR) pesticide exposure on honey bee development, but there has been little work on the longer-term impact of exposure on the colony. A honey bee population model provided the opportunity to investigate the effects of short-term mortality of brood and of sublethal changes in behaviour of the surviving adults on honey bee populations. The model showed that brood mortality alone has limited effect on colony size. There were two mechanisms that could have greater influence on productivity. Precocious foraging in affected adult bees, and hence early loss of brood-rearing (nurse) capabilities, had a much larger effect than expected. Increasing mortality rates by 30% to simulate sublethal effects on lifespan, rather than reduced brood-rearing capability, gave a significantly smaller effect. In order to simulate an effect with the ‘shortened lifespan’ mechanism as large as that with the ‘premature ageing’ mechanism, the mortality rate of affected adults had to be increased by 500%. A significant finding from the model is that application of IGRs in spring and early summer could have substantial effects on colony size and viability. Sublethal effects such as precocious foraging can have worse effects than massive brood mortality, as it severely reduces the ability to rear the next generation of nurse bees. © Crown copyright 2007. Reproduced with the permission of Her Majesty's Stationery Office. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.