Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Beehive:It’s time to sleep, little bee!


The division of labor is very strict in a beehive. The same applies to periods of rest: honey bees sleep with other members of their professional group, as researchers from the University of Würzburg’s Biocenter have discovered.

The activities in a bee colony are highly organized. The insects adhere to a strict division of labor: cleaning combs, feeding the brood and the queen, producing wax and building combs, keeping watch in front of the hive, foraging for nectar and pollen – each of these tasks is carried out by a specific “professional group”.

A forager bee has clamped itself between two combs using its head and the end of its abdomen so it can sleep. This image comes from a hive and was taken using an endoscope with an infrared light.

(Photo: Hobos team)

But what is the situation with periods of sleep and rest? Do these merely represent a lack of activity, where the bees simply do nothing in the location they happen to be in at that time? Or does the bee colony also exhibit sleep behavioral patterns that are specific to their professional groups? This is exactly what happens, as biologists Barrett Klein, Martin Stiegler, Arno Klein, and Jürgen Tautz from the universities of Würzburg and Wisconsin – La Crosse (USA) report in the journal PLoS ONE.

Inside workers sleep in the middle

... more about:
»PLoS »activity »antennae »beehives »breeding »clock »colony »humans »insects »night »sleep

Young bees that work inside generally sleep in empty cells close to the middle of the hive, usually in the breeding area. They have several sleep periods daily, spread over day and night. “The breeding area is a bustling place around the clock,” says Jürgen Tautz, “so empty cells there presumably offer the least chance of being disturbed while sleeping.”

When bees switch from inside to outside service, their sleep periods are gradually delayed. Tautz explains: “The older the bees become, the less they sleep. As forager bees, they demonstrate a clear day-night rhythm to their sleeping behavior. They then generally sleep outside cells and closer to the edge of the combs. There they are likely to be largely undisturbed at night.”

Initial findings about sleeping insects

Sleep in insects: The door to this research field was opened in 1983. At that time, German zoologist Walter Kaiser presented new findings about honey bees, and Swiss researcher Irene Tobler published a comparable paper about cockroaches.

The fact that non-vertebrates also demonstrate a genuine sleep behavior came as such a surprise back then that many scientists were reticent in their response, as Tautz explains. Würzburg bee researcher Martin Lindauer had found early indications as far back as 1952: During continuous day-night observations of individual forager bees, he noted that they were “idle” at night especially.

“Over time, more and more similarities have emerged between sleep in bees and sleep in humans,” says Tautz. While initially bee sleep was only detected in phases of immobility, scientists later identified periods of sleep of varying depth as well in the flying insects. As in humans, sleep deprivation in bees also reduces their ability to learn and communicate.

Biological function remains unclear

Also common to both is the fact that, like in humans, many questions remain unanswered regarding the biological function that sleep has in bees. Various explanations have admittedly been proposed by the scientific community, but none of them is universally recognized. One hypothesis assumes, for example, that the organism regenerates itself during sleep. Another regards sleep as an energy-saving measure, and a third suggests that during sleep the brain separates important from unimportant information, meaningfully committing the former to memory.

Beehive is monitored online

The Würzburg research team is keen to conduct further studies to find out more about how bees sleep. Tautz’s team will use a variety of tools, including the Hobos system (Hobos stands for “Honeybee Online Studies”): This monitors the activity in a beehive online around the clock using various sensor and measuring techniques, and the values can be retrieved on the Internet:

New sleep posture discovered

Using Hobos, the Würzburg researchers have now also discovered a previously unknown sleep posture in bees: The insects clamp themselves between two combs using their head and the end of their abdomen and leave their antennae and legs dangling relaxed. They can remain completely motionless in this position for up to 30 minutes. Otherwise, bees sleep by simply squatting in one place with their antennae hanging down.

Barrett Klein, Martin Stiegler, Arno Klein, Jürgen Tautz: "Mapping sleeping bees within their nest: spatial and temporal analysis of worker honey bee sleep", PLoS ONE 2014, July 16


Prof. Dr. Jürgen Tautz, Biocenter at the University of Würzburg, T +49 (0)931 31-84319,

Robert Emmerich | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Further information:

Further reports about: PLoS activity antennae beehives breeding clock colony humans insects night sleep

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Supercoiled DNA is far more dynamic than the 'Watson-Crick' double helix
13.10.2015 | University of Leeds

nachricht New Oregon approach for 'nanohoops' could energize future devices
13.10.2015 | University of Oregon

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Secure data transfer thanks to a single photon

Physicists of TU Berlin and mathematicians of MATHEON are so successful that even the prestigious journal “Nature Communications” reported on their project.

Security in data transfer is an important issue, and not only since the NSA scandal. Sometimes, however, the need for speed conflicts to a certain degree with...

Im Focus: A Light Touch May Help Animals and Robots Move on Sand and Snow

Having a light touch can make a hefty difference in how well animals and robots move across challenging granular surfaces such as snow, sand and leaf litter. Research reported October 9 in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics shows how the design of appendages – whether legs or wheels – affects the ability of both robots and animals to cross weak and flowing surfaces.

Using an air fluidized bed trackway filled with poppy seeds or glass spheres, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology systematically varied the...

Im Focus: Reliable in-line inspections of high-strength automotive body parts within seconds

Nondestructive material testing (NDT) is a fast and effective way to analyze the quality of a product during the manufacturing process. Because defective materials can lead to malfunctioning finished products, NDT is an essential quality assurance measure, especially in the manufacture of safety-critical components such as automotive B-pillars. NDT examines the quality without damaging the component or modifying the surface of the material. At this year's Blechexpo trade fair in Stuttgart, Fraunhofer IZFP will have an exhibit that demonstrates the nondestructive testing of high-strength automotive body parts using 3MA. The measurement results are available in a matter of seconds.

To minimize vehicle weight and fuel consumption while providing the highest level of crash safety, automotive bodies are reinforced with elements made from...

Im Focus: Kick-off for a new era of precision astronomy

The MICADO camera, a first light instrument for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), has entered a new phase in the project: by agreeing to a Memorandum of Understanding, the partners in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Italy, have all confirmed their participation. Following this milestone, the project's transition into its preliminary design phase was approved at a kick-off meeting held in Vienna. Two weeks earlier, on September 18, the consortium and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which is building the telescope, have signed the corresponding collaboration agreement.

As the first dedicated camera for the E-ELT, MICADO will equip the giant telescope with a capability for diffraction-limited imaging at near-infrared...

Im Focus: Locusts at the wheel: University of Graz investigates collision detector inspired by insect eyes

Self-driving cars will be on our streets in the foreseeable future. In Graz, research is currently dedicated to an innovative driver assistance system that takes over control if there is a danger of collision. It was nature that inspired Dr Manfred Hartbauer from the Institute of Zoology at the University of Graz: in dangerous traffic situations, migratory locusts react around ten times faster than humans. Working together with an interdisciplinary team, Hartbauer is investigating an affordable collision detector that is equipped with artificial locust eyes and can recognise potential crashes in time, during both day and night.

Inspired by insects

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

EHFG 2015: Securing healthcare and sustainably strengthening healthcare systems

01.10.2015 | Event News

Conference in Brussels: Tracking and Tracing the Smallest Marine Life Forms

30.09.2015 | Event News

World Alzheimer`s Day – Professor Willnow: Clearer Insights into the Development of the Disease

17.09.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Smart clothing, mini-eyes, and a virtual twin – Artificial Intelligence at ICT 2015

13.10.2015 | Trade Fair News

Listening to the Extragalactic Radio

13.10.2015 | Physics and Astronomy

Penn study stops vision loss in late-stage canine X-linked retinitis pigmentosa

13.10.2015 | Health and Medicine

More VideoLinks >>>