Maternity-related plasticity in circadian rhythms of bumble-bee queens

Ada Eban-Rothschild, Selma Belluci, Guy Bloch*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Unlike most animals studied so far in which the activity with no circadian rhythms is pathological or linked to deteriorating performance, worker bees and ants naturally care for their sibling brood around the clock with no apparent ill effects. Here, we tested whether bumble-bee queens that care alone for their first batch of offspring are also capable of a similar chronobiological plasticity. We monitored locomotor activity of Bombus terrestris queens at various life cycle stages, and queens for which we manipulated the presence of brood or removed the ovaries.We found that gynes typically emerged from the pupae with no circadian rhythms, but after several days showed robust rhythms that were not affected by mating or diapauses. Colony-founding queens with brood showed attenuated circadian rhythms, irrespective of the presence of ovaries. By contrast, queens that lost their brood switched again to activity with strong circadian rhythms. The discovery that circadian rhythms in bumble-bee queens are regulated by the life cycle and the presence of brood suggests that plasticity in the circadian clock of bees is ancient and related to maternal behaviour or physiology, and is not a derived trait that evolved with the evolution of the worker caste.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)3510-3516
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1724
StatePublished - 7 Dec 2011


  • Bombus terrestris
  • Circadian rhythms
  • Maternal behaviour
  • Plasticity
  • Social evolution


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