A beehive is a busy place; many bees are working together to produce honey. Working so hard makes bees tired, and they need to rest. Same as humans, bees get rest by sleeping. But, even though that seems logical, up until 1983 scientists didn’t know that bees sleep. The scientist who discovered that bees sleep is Walter Kaiser. He noticed that bees sleep by bringing their head to the floor and their antennae stop moving, some bees even fall sideways. The beehive seems like a hectic place, so it makes you wonder, where do bees sleep? But, before getting into that, we should explain why is sleep so important for bees. What happens if bees don’t sleep?
Discovering the effects of lack of sleep on bees was done through experiments. Scientists kept the bees awake all night and got some interesting results.
Since bees are very social animals, their communication is very important. Upon finding a new place to forage the bee has to somehow tell other bees where to go. The bee signals the direction by waggle dances. If a bee lacks sleep, those dances are sloppy which could send bees in the wrong direction. This results in the colony being less productive.
Flying to the new forage location requires remembering some things from the environment which help the bee to get back to the hive. Sleep deprived bees spend more time orienting themselves with surrounding landmarks and the sky. Sometimes bees can get completely lost and never return to the hive.
We already know that sleep consolidates memories in humans, meaning they transfer from short term memory to long term memory. In 2015 study scientists discovered that sleep also consolidates memories in bees. The experiment was done by conditioning bees to stick out their tubular mouthparts, proboscis, on particular odor and heat. That combination was also given to bees during their sleep. Bees who experienced the combination during deep sleep held on to their conditioned response, sticking our proboscis, for longer than other bees.
The answer to ‘where do bees sleep?’ depends on the caste of a bee and their age. Younger bees have more energy so they sleep in short bursts, 30 seconds, naps whenever they can. Older bees waste a lot of energy, so they need longer and more regular sleep. The oldest bees are foragers, and they especially need more rest because the flight is very tiring.
Cleaners (up to 3 days old) - sleep in shortest bursts, usually sleep in cells
Nurses (4-12 days old) - sleep in longer intervals, a fewer sleep in cells
Storers (13-20 days old) - even longer naps, only a few sleep in cells
Foragers - longest intervals (mostly at night), usually sleep on outer edges of the hive
The locations make sense because of roles in the hive that bees of particular age have. Younger bees spend their time in the hive, so sleeping in cells seems like the best option. That way they won’t get nudged and bumped by other bees who are working. There is a theory of why older bees tend to sleep on outer edges of the hive. They might need some peace from all the noise and work in the hive. Sleeping outside the cluster would also keep their diseases and parasites away from the brood. If foragers sleep during the day, they sometimes sleep in cells where it is calm and quiet.
Having some insight on why and where do bees sleep, makes bees even more amazing. Their organization and efficiency are even evident from the way they sleep!