Bees can tell time by temperature

The circadian clocks of bees can be altered by another surprising factor: temperature cycles inside the hive.


Bees and other insects make various decisions that appear to require the ability to estimate elapsed durations.

Using circadian rhythms, bees accurately tell the time of the day. This ability also allowed them to remember the specific timing of food availability and its location for several days.

Postdoctoral scholar in biological sciences Manuel Giannoni-Guzmán and scientists from Brandeis University, University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras, University of Pittsburgh, and East Tennessee State University have shown that another surprising factor can alter the circadian clocks of bees: temperature cycles inside the hive.

Scientists determined how bees lived in peripheral areas beyond where light enters the hive.

They were astounded to discover clear temperature variances across the day through the hive, mimicking temperature oscillations brought about by daylight.

To understand the importance of this temperature cycle for bee’s activity, scientists put bees in constant and total darkness while exposing them to the temperature cycles they observed within the colony. After six days, scientists shifted the temperature cycle back by six hours.

They observed that the bees shifted their activity with the temperature. It signifies that their daily routines were responsive to temperature.

This discovery also tells that bees have other means to describe time accurately when it is a cloudy day. Specifically, when extreme temperatures occur, bees will face challenges maintaining the activities that keep them and the agriculture they support healthy and vibrant.

Postdoctoral scholar in biological sciences Manuel Giannoni-Guzmán said“We want to see how important this research comes to winter in Tennessee when bees aren’t leaving the hive as much. We will be interested to see how our findings apply to temperate regions where there is a greater degree of temperature variability across the year.”

Journal Reference:
  1. Manuel A. Giannoni-Guzmán et al., The Role of Colony Temperature in the Entrainment of Circadian Rhythms of Honey Bee Foragers, Annals of the Entomological Society of America (2020). DOI: 10.1101/2020.08.17.254722
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