Do Ants Sleep?

Think about it, have you ever seen an ant taking a rest?

While most of the ants that we see on a day-to-day basis are hard workers by definition, one does wonder whether they ever get any down time. Do our six-legged friends experience the equivalent feeling of kicking it back on the couch after a busy week or laying down for some quality sleep after a long night out?

The answer is yes, though the sleeping behaviour of most ants resembles more of a power nap than an eight-hour knock-out. A variety of studies have shown that workers may take anywhere from eight minutes of rest every 12 hours, to over 250 one-minute naps in one day; often at irregular intervals. While the numbers vary considerably, they pale in comparison to the regal sleeping schedule. Queens will often enjoy more regular, longer and deeper sleeping cycles that can last up to nine hours per day — twice the amount of rest a simple worker enjoys.

Laying up to 300,000 eggs in a day, before attending official functions and gala dinners at night, certainly seems like a good justification for some sound sleep. On the workers’ side, the power napping behaviour helps ensure “enough worker ants are awake at any one time to protect and serve the colony.” This discrepancy in sleep times bears long-term consequences; a worker ant will typically only live up to 6–12 months, while a queen can live up to six years. Some Elizabethan queens have even been observed making it to 45.

The majority of other insects also demonstrate some form of sleep or resting behaviour. Fruit flies stand out in particular, as their sleeping preferences are endearingly similar to those of humans. They can sleep up to seven hours at night, which is quite remarkable considering their 50-day lifespan. As a result, they are commonly used in a variety of sleep studies exploring the effects of caffeine and sleep deprivation; the latter even may result in them exhibiting cognitive disabilities.

How they get flies to drink coffee remains a mystery, but if you are itching to know how a fruit fly’s cognitive abilities are assessed: “a common method is to present the fly with two tunnels, one dark and another with a light at the end. If sugar is placed in the dark tunnel (and something they dislike in the light tunnel), the fly will eventually learn to ignore their instinct of moving towards the light. Flies deprived of sleep require a longer time to learn this and also forget it more quickly.” (Source)

So there we go, ants power-nap and fruit flies sleep like humans. The subject of sleep is a true Pandora’s box of wonderfully mysterious and curious stories, which will certainly be explored further in future instalments of A Dose of Curiosity.



A Dose of Curiosity is a blog exploring small questions with big answers.

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