Sleep....Everyone needs it, many don't get enough of it, some get too much of it and on a Sunday morning almost all expect to prolong it.
But would it surprise you to know that Bees also need sleep and in fact they do sleep, on a average of 5 - 8 hrs a day. Depending on their specific duty within the hive, their sleep pattern can be the same as ours in a day and night cycle. This is more common for the forager bee that is unable to forage at night.
The fact that honeybees slept was first discovered by scientist Walter Kaiser in 1983. While watching them he noticed the bees legs would start to bend and it would bring it's head to the floor and then it's antennae would stop moving. In some cases the bee would actually flop over on one side. So cute! Then another bee would pull over a small blanket of wax and gently cover it.... no no no, just kidding on that part :). Many bees held each others legs while they slept. (that part is true). Although Walter did not explain why they do this, it could be so they could sense any emergency response from the other bees and it would wake them all.
Biologists have been studying the relevance of sleep with bees and to see if lack of sleep effects their ability to perform their tasks. To do this they kept some of the forager bees awake and studied their progress. So what happened?
That's right, you guessed it, they became teenagers again. They couldn't dance properly, lost their focus quickly, it took longer for them to do things, they returned home late and on some occasions they got lost. This had an effect on the productivity of the whole hive (lesson for teenagers!).
So we can see the importance of sleep for the bees. But why is it important apart from the negative effects of lack of it.
When us humans are in deep sleep we consolidate memories, changing them from short term memory into long term memory. How many times have you done something or been somewhere in the day and had a dream about it at night? or at least had a dream which contains something about the days activities? This is in fact our brains consolidating the transferring short memories into long term memories. Therefore a dream is known to be a kind of consolidation process. Scientists wanted to know if bees do the same.
When a bee detects heat and odor it usually means there is food and they can feed, so their proboscis extends and they have dinner. So they trained a set of bees to respond to a specific heat and odor combination and then they gave them food. After 3 or 4 attempts they would respond without the need for the reward. So essentially they have learned a new heat-odor combination. It's amazing how quick learners the bees are as this would take other species a lot longer.
After this the bees where segregated off into their own little sleeping quarters so they could get some sleep. While they were sleeping some bees were given the original test and other were given a different neutral odor. This would stimulate further brain activity while they sleep.
The next day, after they yawned out of their little hibernation chambers, they were tested to see which ones remember the specific heat and odor combination. It turns out that the bees given the neutral odor had completely forgotten what they had learned the previous day while the bees given the correct heat-odor combination retained the knowledge!
This test shows us that they are subject to process called sleep reinforced memory. It also shows us that while the humble bee sleeps it brain doesn't. It shows that the previous days activities are transferred into more permanent memories in order to be utilized the next day. This is an astonishing discovery.
What is even more amazing is that this study points to the theory that bees might actually dream when they sleep just like us humans.
At this point we are not sure if they have nightmares, but we hope not.