Remarkable Sensitivity of Young Honey Bee Workers to Multiple Non-photic, Non-thermal, Forager Cues That Synchronize Their Daily Activity Rhythms

Oliver Siehler, Shuo Wang, Guy Bloch*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Honey bees live in colonies containing tens of thousands of workers that coordinate their activities to produce efficient colony-level behavior. In free-foraging colonies, nest bees are entrained to the forager daily phase of activity even when experiencing conflicting light-dark illumination regime, but little is known on the cues mediating this potent social synchronization. We monitored locomotor activity in an array of individually caged bees in which we manipulated the contact with neighbour bees. We used circular statistics and coupling function analyses to estimate the degree of social synchronization. We found that young bees in cages connected to cages housing foragers showed stronger rhythms, better synchronization with each other, higher coupling strength, and a phase more similar to that of the foragers compared to similar bees in unconnected cages. These findings suggest that close distance contacts are sufficient for social synchronization or that cage connection facilitated the propagation of time-giving social cues. Coupling strength was higher for bees placed on the same tray compared with bees at a similar distance but on a different tray, consistent with the hypothesis that substrate borne vibrations mediate phase synchronization. Additional manipulation of the contact between cages showed that social synchronization is better among bees in cages connected with tube with a single mesh partition compared to sealed tubes consistent with the notion that volatile cues act additively to substrate borne vibrations. These findings are consistent with self-organization models for social synchronization of activity rhythms and suggest that the circadian system of honey bees evolved remarkable sensitivity to non-photic, non-thermal, time giving entraining cues enabling them to tightly coordinate their behavior in the dark and constant physical environment of their nests.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number789773
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
StatePublished - 23 Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2021 Siehler, Wang and Bloch.


  • circadian rhythm
  • coupled oscillators
  • division of labor
  • honey bee
  • non-photic entrainment
  • social synchronization
  • substrate borne communication


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