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 Strong, steady forces at work during cell division
20.10.2016 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst

nachricht Disturbance wanted
20.10.2016 | Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Innovative technique for shaping light could solve bandwidth crunch

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

NASA's MAVEN mission observes ups and downs of water escape from Mars

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>