Behavioral rhythmicity, age, division of labor and period expression in the honey bee brain

Guy Bloch*, Dan P. Toma, Gene E. Robinson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

133 Scopus citations


Young adult honey bees work inside the beehive "nursing" brood around the clock with no circadian rhythms; older bees forage for nectar and pollen outside with strong circadian rhythms. Previous research has shown that the development of an endogenous rhythm of activity is also seen in the laboratory in a constant environment. Newly emerging bees maintained in isolation are typically arrhythmic during the first few days of adult life and develop strong circadian rhythms by about a few days of age. In addition, average daily levels of period (per) mRNA in the brain are higher in foragers or forager-age bees (> 21 days of age) relative to young nest bees (∼ 7 days of age). The authors used social manipulations to uncouple behavioral rhythmicity, age, and task to determine the relationship between these factors and per. There was no obligate link between average daily levels of per brain mRNA and either behavioral rhythmicity or age. There also were no differences in per brain mRNA levels between nurse bees and foragers in social environments that promote precocious or reversed behavioral development. Nurses and other hive-age bees can have high or low levels of per mRNA levels in the brain, depending on the social environment, while foragers and foraging-age bees always have high levels. These findings suggest a link between honey bee foraging behavior and per up-regulation. Results also suggest task-related differences in the amplitude of per mRNA oscillation in the brain, with foragers having larger diurnal fluctuation in per than nurses, regardless of age. Taken together, these results suggest that social factors may exert potent influences on the regulation of clock genes.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)444-456
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Biological Rhythms
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Biological clock
  • Circadian rhythms
  • Division of labor
  • Honey bee
  • Period gene
  • Social behavior
  • Social environment


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