Honey Bee Circadian Clocks: Behavioral Control From Individual Workers to Whole-Colony Rhythms

Document Type

Short Survey

Publication Date



In the field of insect circadian rhythms, the honey bee is best known for its foraging time-sense, or Zeitgedächtnis, which permits the forager bee to make precise associations between the presence of food and the time of day. A number of studies, now considered classics, established that bees could be trained to collect food at virtually any time of the circadian cycle and that this timekeeping ability was controlled by an endogenous circadian clock. Recently, behavioral rhythms in bees have been examined using a variety of approaches, in both laboratory and field studies. The following areas of new research are reviewed: (a) the ontogeny of behavioral rhythmicity in newly emerged worker bees; (b) the integration of behavioral rhythmicity with the colony's division of labor; (c) the evidence for social entrainment of behavioral rhythms and for a 'clock of the colony'; (d) the potential linkage between circadian rhythms of general locomotor activity and the foraging time-sense; (e) learning and entrainment hypotheses proposed to explain the mechanism underlying the time-sense; (f) the interplay between extinction and persistence of the time-memory as revealed from the differential behavior of individuals within the foraging group; and (g) comparisons of the Zeitgedächtnis with food-anticipatory rhythms in other animals.