Most animals, including humans follow biological cycles that are 24 hours long. Now what determines these 24-hour cycles? Do animals have something like a 24-hour clock inside them? Or are biological cycles determined by external factors, like the alternation of daylight and darkness. Well, research suggests that the answer is somewhere in between. Animals do have an internal clock, but external cues are important, too. Take flying squirrels. Flying squirrels are nocturnal. They are active during the night and sleep during the day. But in the experiment, some of these squirrels were kept in constant darkness. They were not exposed to any daylight for about a month, now do the squirrels continue to follow regular cycles of activity? Actually, they did. They continue to have regular patterns of sleeping and waking. This indicates that animals do having an internal clock which regulates their activity cycles. But…um, the internal clock is not precisely 24 hours long. Instead of following 24-hour cycles, the squirrels followed cycles that were about half an hour shorter than that. So every day they woke up a little bit earlier. Without external cues, without sunlight to fine-tune their internal clocks, the squirrels’ biological cycles drifted. So eh, what happened when the squirrels were exposed to daylight again? Well, after a month of darkness, a month of waking up half an hour earlier each day, the squirrels’ activity cycle had shifted a lot. So, at first, their schedules didn’t match up with the normal day. They weren’t active during the nighttime as flying squirrels usually are. Instead, they were waking up in the middle of the day. But after a while, the squirrel cycles began to change. Gradually, external cues, the cycle of light and darkness adjusted their internal clocks. So, eventually, um…they were brought back into a normal 24-hour schedule.
Using points and examples from the lecture, explain what determines animals' 24-hour activity cycle.
In this lecture, the professor probes into two different kinds of factors that determine the animals' biological cycles, internal clocks and external clocks, which can affect each other. The professor takes flying squirrel as an example. In the experiment, when flying squirrels are kept in constant darks for about a month, they are still able to keep regular cycles of activity，which shows that internal clocks do work in flying squirrels when the external environment has changed, although it is about half an hour shorter than the normal length of time. On the other hand. When these squirrels are exposed to the daylight again after a month of darkness, they are not as active as they usually are during the nighttime and wake up during the day. And then, the external clocks, along with the cycle of light and darkness, begin to adjust the squirrels’ internal clocks. Finally, their biological cycles return to normal again.