• Question: I've been reading about your study on animals' "body clocks" and I wondered, if an animal is transported to a different part of the world where the weather through the year,seasons or day lengths are different, would they become confused and would their "body clocks" cease to function properly? So, effectively is it climate and daylight which affects it or actual time?

    Asked by jammiedodger to Indi, Jarv, John, Ken, Vicky on 14 Mar 2012.
    • Photo: Ken Dutton-Regester

      Ken Dutton-Regester answered on 14 Mar 2012:

      Cool question- they would probably be confused at first but the body would quickly adapt. Just like when I travel over to that side of the world (or you come all the way here), the time zone is different yet you adapt after a couple of days. The concept of jet lag is basically the time it takes for your body to adjust to the new day cycle. Your body clock is regulated by a number of things but actual daylight is a big factor. Your body recognises when its daylight and also when its night time. Depending on what type of animal your talking about will determine whether they will sleep at night (nocturnal) or day (diurnal).

    • Photo: Indi Ghangrekar

      Indi Ghangrekar answered on 14 Mar 2012:

      Yep, exactly what Ken said! Just to expand a bit further, the jet lag feeling that happens is because if you’re in the UK, your body will be expecting daylight and night at certain times but if you then flew to Australia to see Ken, everything would get thrown off balance as daylight starts 10 hours earlier over there! Everything gets confused for the first few days because this expectation of light/ dark is thrown off but your brain’s body clock learns that there is a change and adjusts to it, but it takes a few days. The problem is also because when the brain body clock sends messages to the rest of the body about the time of day (your organs that also function differently depending on the time of day) they don’t always ‘catch up’ and learn the new time at the same rate so all your organs are functioning but not at their most efficient! When they’ve all caught up you’ll start feeling a lot more back to normal.

      In terms of taking other animals to different time zones, some animals will cope with it a lot better or worse depending on the animal and where you are moving it from/ to. For example reindeer that live very far North near the North Pole, they have the genes and proteins for a body clock but they silence their body clock because it is not useful to them in these regions. During summer they have too many hours of light (nearly 24 on some days!) and in the winter they have perpetual darkness (nearly). As the seasons are so extreme and in the middle of them there are very few changes to the amount of light, a clock would make things difficult. Their clocks are very irregular and do not have much influence. If you put deer (distant relatives of reindeer) from equatorial Africa there, they would find it very difficult to cope with these extremes because near the equator, nearly every day has 12hours of light and 12 hours of dark!

      So, the short version is, it depends on the animal, it’s native time zone and the new time zone. We may one day have a few answers to this with people – looking at details of what type of internal time a person has (individuals can vary a lot and also by age and sex). So, if a person born and raised for a few years in India (me for example) then migrates to a country that has very different climate and different amounts of seasonal daylight hours and then grows up there for the rest of the time (from age 9 for me), how does that affect my normal internal time (because some development was in one type of environment and some development was in a quite different place)? There are researchers getting people to fill out questionnaires online about what sort of time they keep on working and free days and if a lot of people fill them out, they’ll have lots of information about people’s normal internal time. If you want to try it out, go to http://www.thewep.org and try it out, they’ll send you an email about your internal time type (or chronotype (chrono means time)).