Where Do Bees Sleep at Night?

November 20, 2023

As beekeepers, we frequently observe bumble bees sleeping during the day. When this happens, they are drooping with their antennae inert and may even tip over sideways. Scientists have found that bees in a drowsy state exhibit similar behavior to that of humans and other mammals – they become immobile, their body temperature drops significantly, and they are difficult to wake up.

The amount of sleep a bee takes varies with age and its role in the hive. Younger bees take short periodic naps but otherwise are active 24-7 inside the hive. As bees age, they tend to spend longer periods of time sleeping at night and need longer breaks between their foraging trips outside the hive.

A recent study showed that each of the different worker castes has a unique sleep pattern. Specifically, cell cleaners sleep only inside cells while each successively older caste (from foragers to brood nurses) sleeps less and less inside cells. In addition, each of the different castes exhibits a distinct sleep pattern with respect to their proximity to the hive’s perimeter during light and deep sleep. For example, food storers are colder during light and deep sleep than they are when they’re awake (Tday/nightproximity to perimeter; z = 3.94, P = 0.00001; n = 401 observations, 41 bees). Nurses, however, do not display this difference in temperature during light or deep sleep compared with their temperatures when they’re awake. This indicates that foragers, like nurses, require more energy-intensive activities than other bees and so need to rest in cooler areas during sleep.

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