A Sense of Timing
from the book, "Our Fascinating Earth"

Book: 
Our Fascinating Earth

A Sense of Timing

Some animals seem to possess a remarkable sense of timing; foremost among them are the bees. In 1921 the entomologist Karl von Frisch performed an experiment to determine whether bees can be attracted to the same spot at a precise time each day. At a designated time and place he laid out foods that would attract bees. The bees visiting this outdoor cafeteria were caught and marked with tiny spots of red paint. The conditioning of the bees to respond to the stimulus continued for some time, during which they acquired the habit of arriving regularly for the free meals.

When a timekeeper was stationed to record the bees' arrival, he found the majority arrived at almost precisely the time the food was regularly set out. When no food was set out, the bees arrived at their usual mealtime anyway. When the food was withheld for a week, the bees continued to return promptly at the time they had learned to associate with the food. After that their numbers began to dwindle; a few continued to arrive on schedule for several weeks.

An example of even more precise animal timing is illustrated by the Australian fruit bat. These animals congregate in vast numbers among densely foliaged trees. Promptly at six o'clock every evening the bats stream out to wherever their feeding grounds are located. Whether it's daylight or after dark, summer or winter, they always appear at the same exact hour. Australians claim that they can set their clocks by the time of the bats' evening flight.