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Do Bees Sleep?

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Do Bees Sleep?

If you’ve ever looked at a bee and wondered if it curls up and has a sleep at night like the rest of us, you’re not alone.

We were curious too, so we did some research.  

The answer: yes, bees do sleep.

It turns out that, just like humans, bees hit the mattress when it gets dark and wake up with the sunrise.  Keep reading to find out how bees sleep, where they sleep, and just how long they snooze for each night.

How do bees sleep?

Scientists have found that bees actually sleep in a way that’s very similar to humans and other mammals.  

Their muscles relax, their body temperatures lower, they more or less stop moving, their breathing slows, and they even adopt sleeping positions – their heads droop and their legs sag, to the point where they’ll often end up lying on their sides.  

Sometimes, they’ll sleep by hanging from walls with their heads pointed up, or by dangling off objects with their tarsal claws.  Sleeping in groups with other bees or in isolation are both normal sleeping behaviours.    

Antenna movement is also an important part of how bees sleep.  When a bee is awake, its antennae are like its ears, nose, and hands, all rolled into two multi-segmented appendages.  It uses its antennae to smell, to detect vibrations generated by sound, and to communicate with other bees through touch.

When a bee falls asleep, its antennae are completely still, except for the occasional small movement – similar to the way a dog or a cat sometimes twitches when they’re dreaming.  Bee dreams often happen during third-stage sleep, which is the bee equivalent of deep sleep.  The other two stages, first- and second-stage sleep, are transitionary sleep phases that occur before and after third-stage sleep. 

Where do bees sleep?

Like humans, honey bees (and other hive-dwelling bees) normally sleep in their hive – it’s their home, where they’re safe from predators, and in the company of their fellow workers.

Research has shown that the exact place honey bees sleep in the hive depends on their age and caste.  As worker bees age, they perform different jobs in the hive, which include:

  • Cell cleaner (cleaning the wax cells where eggs are laid)
  • Nurse (feeding and caring for the brood and the queen)
  • Food storer (receiving and storing fresh nectar)
  • Forager (finding nectar and pollen to feed the colony)

Cell cleaners often sleep head-first in cells, while nurses and food storers sometimes sleep in cells but mostly sleep in other parts of the hive.  Foragers (as you’d expect) rarely doze off in cells, instead preferring to sleep out in the open.

Do bees sleep in flowers?

Solitary species of bees may not necessarily have a nest or a burrow to sleep in, so they’ll often spend the night hanging from leaves or curled up in flowers.  Some solitary bees have even been found to take shelter in bird nests!       

What time do bees sleep?

Like humans and other mammals, bee sleep is cyclic, regulated by circadian rhythms that develop as they get older.

Young worker bees in the cell cleaner and nurse castes work around-the-clock inside the hive, sleeping when they get tired before heading straight back to their jobs.  Older workers, who operate in the food storer and forager castes, have more developed circadian rhythms with more regular sleep cycles, normally going to sleep at night.   

How long do bees sleep for?

Eight hours a day keeps the doctor away – and that goes for bees too.  Studies have shown that bees sleep somewhere between five and eight hours a night, depending on their age and caste.       

Do bees dream?

According to the science, there’s strong evidence to suggest that bees do dream!  

More accurately, they have experiences while sleeping that are pretty similar to how we dream, although their ‘dreams’ are probably more focused on replaying and reinforcing specific smells and moments from their waking life.  

Bees have good memories and are extremely quick learners, so it’s possible that dreaming might play a role in their cognitive abilities.    

Why do bees sleep?

The big question: why do bees spend up to a third of their very short lives snoozing?

The answer: because it’s essential for their day-to-day functioning.

Yes, just like people, poor sleep in bees impairs memory and communication skills.  In addition to using touch via their antennae, bees also communicate using ‘waggle dances’ – a kind of sign language that relays important information to their fellow workers.  When bees don’t get enough sleep, their waggle dances get sloppy, leading to situations like other workers struggling to find food sources.

Sleep is also used to consolidate the memories of bees, particularly navigation memory, which is important for foragers finding their way back to the hive.  When bees are sleep-deprived, their chances of making it home successfully after foraging are reduced.  

Conclusion

Knowing that bees and humans share such similar sleeping habits is fascinating, especially when you think about how alike we are in our work habits.

Next time you’re outside early in the morning, try spotting solitary bees sleeping on leaves or in flowers.  Feeling really brave?  Carefully check out a hive.  If you get there when the forager bees are just starting to wake up, you might get to see them starting to crawl lazily out of the hive – just like humans do before our morning coffees kick in.    

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Duncan Croker

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