MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: RE: ants and sleep

Area: Zoology
Posted By: Keith McGuinness, Faculty Biology
Date: Mon Sep 16 23:37:46 1996

Question: Could you please tell me if ants ever sleep? We have an ant ranch and the ants lool like they are always busy.

What a question! I asked an expert on the ecology and biology of ants and he said: 'I have no idea. And how would you know anyway?'

He went on to say that since ants don't have eyelids, you couldn't use shut eyes to indicate sleep. And trying to do anything to monitor the activity of their brain would interfere with them so much that the results wouldn't tell us very much.

What we know about sleep suggests that insects (like ants) probably wouldn't do it, or need to do it. Mammals and birds are the animals which do most sleeping (some fish do have a resting state something like sleep and there may be other animals I don't know about who do something similar). The function of sleep in birds and mammals (like us) is not at all well understood. It may give our bodies time to do repair and maintenance activities. It may also be required for some memory processing--at least this is one explanation for why we dream. Ants wouldn't need to do this (they don't have much of a brain).

So if you think your ants are active most of the time, you are probably right. Sorry I can't give you a bit more information.

Added later:

Some days after sending of my answer to Alex's question I found that some insects do sleep. (Ants, of course, are insects.)

The authors of the book The Invertebrates: A New Synthesis write:

"After activity there is need for rest, even for ' busy bees'. Honey bees enter a state of profound rest at night, with remarkable similarities to the phenomenon of sleep. Movement, muscle tone, body temperature, sensitivity to stimuli all are reduced. In contrast to the pattern in mammals, a condition comparable to 'deep sleep' is more pronounced towards the end of the sleep phase."

This certainly sounds like sleep; however, I don't know of other insects, or other invertebrates (animals without backbones), that do this. But if bees sleep, do they dream? (Probably not.) If so, of what? (Particularly nice flowers?)

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