Abstract Penultimate-instar larvae of Bombyx mori were neck-ligated or ligated posterior to the prothoracic glands. Repetitive injections of 20-hydroxyecdysone every 3 or more hours elicited the gut purge in thorax-ligated animals. Single injections of 20-hydroxyecdysone up to 40 μg failed to induce the gut purge. However, a single injection of 20-hydroxyecdysone together with juvenile hormone analogue, resulted in larval moulting of thorax-ligated animals. Once the thorax-ligated larvae showed the gut purge, a single injection of 20-hydroxyecdysone was enough to provoke pupation. The change in ecdysteroid titre in those animals receiving repeated injections was compared with that observed in neck-ligated larvae that spontaneously underwent the gut purge followed by precocious pupation. These data indicate that the very low ecdysteroid titre found before the gut purge is important for the acquisition of competence to undergo the gut purge in response to a small ecdysteroid surge just before the gut purge.