Do Bees Sleep?
Sleep seems essential for pretty much any species on earth—human or animal. Although there are those creatures that can do with very little. Our question today is about the bee: does a bee sleep and, if so, how and when?
Like many other insects, the bee has a very busy life, and a relatively short lifespan to make it all happen. Do they even have time for rest and sleep? Let’s find out.
Do Bees Sleep?
You’ve probably heard many times that bees don’t sleep, they simply don’t have time. The bee already leads a busy lifestyle, so why should sleep be a priority?
The answer may surprise you, but the bee does in fact sleep. It’s actually a fact that’s been known for quite some time now.
Take, for example, the bumblebee queen. Before she can begin to lay eggs and build her colony, she must hibernate from late summer until spring. She fattens up, buries herself underground and then enters a deep sleep for a couple of months, a process known as diapause.
If we take a look at bees in general, researchers have also discovered that the worker bee sleeps as well. Inside the hive or nest, worker bees have different assignments. Some fly out to pollinate and gather nectar and pollen, while others stay in the hive or nest, to look after the queen and brood.
Those that stay in the nest or hive are usually the younger bees. These are responsible for producing honey for the queen and larvae. For a while, it was unknown whether or not they slept, seeing that they’re younger and have less tiresome chores.
A study has now revealed that even young bees sleep and that their sleep patterns are surprisingly similar to that of older bees. The difficult part seems to be waking the youngsters again.
The older bee spends all day flying in and out of the nest, foraging for nectar and pollen. During the night, they go through light, medium, and deep sleep, generally in 30-minute intervals, until sunrise. They will then go directly from sleep to full consciousness, flying out to gather more supplies.
The youngsters go through the same stages, however, they require more time to wake up and the intervals are shorter. They can usually manage on short bursts of sleep.
Instead of waking up fully rested and ready for the day, the youngsters can sometimes nod right back into sleep. It can take them quite some time before they’re ready to go to work — that will sound familiar for parents of teenagers.
The older bee will stay awake until sunset, but the young may only be awake for a few hours and, typically, take several naps during the day.
The Importance of Sleep for a Bee
The bee needs sleep just as much as a human does. We’re already aware of how much work they do, but losing sleep affects the bee in a similar way to how it affects us.
Studies reveal that older bees’ their memory becomes poor when they don’t sleep or rest. If they lose out on those precious shut-eye hours, they could forget their daily tasks.
It’s not a new discovery that, after we learn something new, sleep helps stabilize the fresh memory traces. This enables us to familiarize ourselves with the newly learned task. The same actually goes for bees.
During sleep, they’re exposed to similar odors and temperatures as they were during the day. This sort of reactivates the memory of their daily tasks and where they went.
Sometimes, it can also happen that the forager bee forgets the way back to the colony. The older forager often flies out to new locations in search for more flowers.
Sleep helps her to memorize the route. Sleep deprivation, however, can lead to a lost bee who never returned.
Inability to Communicate
A bee uses dance as a way to communicate with other bees. The waggle dance signals different directions, and also enthusiasm about a specific place. This way, they can explain directions to food sources or to new suitable places for a hive.
Without a good dance, the other bees might receive the wrong directions. This, in turn, could mean less production in the colony.
Where Does a Bee Sleep?
This depends on where the bee is, which caste it is, and its role in the colony. Most social bee species live in a colony, where some build hives and others nests.
The younger bees who work as cleaners, nurses, or storers usually sleep in cells inside the nest. The cells are generally located far inside the hive, where they store honey, eggs, and larvae. This is what we call the honeycomb.
This seems to be the most convenient spot for them as it’s closest to where they work. It can get noisy at times, but seeing that the younger bees have shorter sleep periods, it doesn’t seem to affect them.
The older the bee is, the further it sleeps from the cells. Older bees that do all the foraging tend to sleep on the outer parts of the hive or nest. It’s not exactly sure as to why that is, but some believe it’s to escape the noise coming from inside.
The older bees require much more sleep with fewer interruptions. Seeing that the work never stops deep in the hive, the outer areas will be quieter.
Another theory points toward parasites and diseases the foragers are often exposed to. Sleeping on the edge of the hive as opposed to inside the cells might keep the brood safe from contamination.
If we take a look at the male bumblebee, it’s not uncommon to find them passed out on a flower. The bumblebee male doesn’t live inside the nest or even near it. These fly away as soon as they can, to mate with other queens.
A flower is often the most convenient spot for them to rest their wings. The solitary bee does the same. Unlike the honey or bumblebee, this type doesn’t live in big colonies.
Take for example the teddy bear bee. During the late afternoon, it might find a tree which it bites onto and sleeps there for the night. Other solitary bees seek out a convenient flower or plant.
Can You Tell When a Bee Is Sleeping?
Yes, you can tell when a bee is sleeping, although they don’t close their eyes. But like humans, the sleeping bee takes on a relaxed posture.
The sleeping bee has a very relaxed body. The thorax, head, and antennae will droop down deeper as the bee enters sleep.
The bee then becomes more relaxed once it reaches the last stage of sleep. The wings will rest on top of its body and the legs usually curl up underneath it. All of its body then rests fully on the ground.
It also becomes quite unresponsive during sleep. Sometimes the other bees will have to hang on to the legs of the sleeping bee, to prevent it from falling out of the hive.
The bee’s body temperature will also decrease when it sleeps. This is, again, very similar to humans. Then as daylight comes through, it will return to normal.
A busy bee needs sleep just like we do. A sleep-deprived bee will find it difficult to remember, find their way back home, and won’t be able to communicate properly. The sleep patterns, however, vary, depending on the age of the bee.
If you ever come across a sleeping bee, leave it alone. It will likely wake up and be on its way as soon as it has completed its sleep cycle.