The colony environment, but not direct contact with conspecifics, influences the development of circadian rhythms in honey bees

Ada Eban-Rothschild, Yair Shemesh, Guy Bloch*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Honey bee (Apis mellifera) workers emerge from the pupae with no circadian rhythms in behavior or brain clock gene expression but show strong rhythms later in life. This postembryonic development of circadian rhythms is reminiscent of that of infants of humans and other primates but contrasts with most insects, which typically emerge from the pupae with strong circadian rhythms. Very little is known about the internal and external factors regulating the ontogeny of circadian rhythms in bees or in other animals. We tested the hypothesis that the environment during early life influences the later expression of circadian rhythms in locomotor activity in young honey bees. We reared newly emerged bees in various social environments, transferred them to individual cages in constant laboratory conditions, and monitored their locomotor activity. We found that the percentage of rhythmic individuals among bees that experienced the colony environment for their first 48 h of adult life was similar to that of older sister foragers, but their rhythms were weaker. Sister bees isolated individually in the laboratory for the same period were significantly less likely to show circadian rhythms in locomotor activity. Bees experiencing the colony environment for only 24 h, or staying for 48 h with 30 same-age sister bees in the laboratory, were similar to bees individually isolated in the laboratory. By contrast, bees that were caged individually or in groups in single- or double-mesh enclosures inside a field colony were as likely to exhibit circadian rhythms as their sisters that were freely moving in the same colony. These findings suggest that the development of the circadian system in young adult honey bees is faster in the colony than in isolation. Direct contact with the queen, workers, or the brood, contact pheromones, and trophallaxis, which are all important means of communication in honey bees, cannot account for the influence of the colony environment, since they were all withheld from the bees in the double-mesh enclosures. Our results suggest that volatile pheromones, the colony microenvironment, or both influence the ontogeny of circadian rhythms in honey bees.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)217-225
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Biological Rhythms
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Rafi Nir, Taryn Harpaz, and Yafit Brenner for assistance with the bees. This work was supported by grants from the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF, 2007-465), the Israel Science Foundation (ISF, grant 606/02), and the German Israel Foundation (GIF, Contract Number I-822-73.1/2004) to G.B.


  • Apis mellifera
  • circadian rhythms
  • locomotor activity
  • nonphotic cues
  • ontogeny
  • social environment


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