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J Biol Rhythms. 2010 Oct;25(5):307-17. doi: 10.1177/0748730410380149.

The social clock of the honeybee.

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  • 1Department of Evolution, Systematics, and Ecology, The Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel.


The honeybee has long been an important model for studying the interplay between the circadian clock and complex behaviors. This article reviews studies further implicating the circadian clock in complex social behaviors in bees. The article starts by introducing honeybee social behavior and sociality and then briefly summarizes current findings on the molecular biology and neuroanatomy of the circadian system of honeybees that point to molecular similarities to the mammalian clockwork rather than to that of Drosophila. Foraging is a social behavior in honeybees that relies on the circadian clock for timing visits to flowers, time-compensated sun-compass navigation, and dance communication used by foragers to recruit nestmates to rewarding flower patches. The circadian clock is also important for the social organization of honeybee societies. Social factors influence the ontogeny of circadian rhythms and are important for social synchronization of worker activities. Both queen and worker bees switch between activities with and without circadian rhythms. In workers this remarkable plasticity is associated with the division of labor; nurse bees care for the brood around the clock with similar levels of clock gene expression throughout the day, whereas foragers have strong behavioral circadian rhythms with oscillating brain clock gene levels. This plasticity in circadian rhythms is regulated by direct contact with the brood and is context-specific in that nurse bees that are removed from the hive exhibit activity with strong behavioral and molecular rhythms. These studies on the sociochronobiology of honeybees and comparative studies with other social insects suggest that the evolution of sociality has influenced the characteristics of the circadian system in honeybees.

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