Almost any animal regulates its metabolism as well as its reproductive life according to the time of the year. (The fact that some domestic animals do not is the exception). This dependence on the season has long been a mystery for endocrinologists. Even then it was found that the Nucleus suprachiasmaticus in the hypothalamus controls and generates a circadian (daily) rhythm which is reflected in all animals analyzed the circannual (yearly) rhythm remained obcur.
Recent developments have shown that some pituitary cells in Pars tuberalis (PT; close to the pituitary stalk) measure the length of day via the melatonin they receive. Since melatonin is only produced in the dark, much melatonin means long nights and few melatonin means short nights. These cells therefore have been named calendar cells.
In an Open Access review in the Journal of Endocrinology Shona Wood and Andrew Loudon have summarized what is known about the physiology and biochemistry of this circannual regulation. They show that thyriod hormones and their conversion from thyroxine to triiodothyronine by deiodinase are an important part in the short day response. They analyse the melatonin response in the PT. They also show how clock genes are differential regulated during the seasons. Finally they show that a ancient gene, the eye absent protein 3 (EYA3) is specifically upregulated when the days get longer.
These genes are ancient and found in insects as well as in birds and mammals pointing to a very old mechanism.
Nice paper, worth studying!