Where Do Honey Bees Sleep?

December 26, 2023

Honey bees have a complex social system, in which each worker caste serves a specific role within the colony. Among these roles are tending brood and queen as nurse bees, receiving and storing nectar as food storers, and foraging as foragers. Since each of these tasks has a spatial component, we expect that bees performing those duties will sleep in different areas of the hive. We used a special observation hive with infrared-sensitive cameras and thermal imaging to noninvasively monitor the behavior of bees inside comb cells. Visibility is usually restricted to the posterior tip of a bee’s abdomen, so identification of behaviors was challenging without the use of these tools. Nonetheless, ventilatory movements and lack of large motions allowed us to accurately identify sleeping bees (86.6%) and heating bees (73.0%).

Young bees – cell cleaners and nursing bees – nap in the center of the hive, where they can be protected from bumping or nudging by their coworkers. Older bees – food storers and foragers – choose to sleep on the edge of the hive. They do not have regular sleep patterns but rather nap in longer increments at night.

The average thoracic surface temperature of foragers and food storers in light sleep and deep sleep was significantly colder than that of bees when they were awake (day: z = 4.87, P0.00001; night: z = 3.54, P0.00001; n=121 observations, 27 bees). In contrast, the average sleeping temperature of nurses did not differ between day and night or between deep and light sleep.

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