Do Ants Sleep? Animal Hype

Do Ants Sleep?

Ants are common insects with about 10,000 known species around the world. These insects are predominant in some regions, especially in tropical areas where they could be even more than half the insects available in the region. Ants are unique insects with interesting capabilities.

Ants are always wandering. It is almost a common thing to see hundreds of ants lined up, carrying food on their heads or maybe looking for the food. The insects walk in a certain rhythm without leaving their lines, and you would wonder who sets the pace for them. Could it be a queen ant? Well, no one knows for sure.

From the look of things, you could be left wondering if the little creatures take a break to rest or even get some sleep. Some tend to think that ants never sleep. You could easily fall for that as it is rare to find an ant resting, leave alone standing. To shed some light on your wonders, yes, ants do sleep.

What Ants Do After Night Fall

It is normal to wonder what little creatures such as ants do when the night darkness crawls in. You could be possibly thinking, are they nocturnal or do they turn in after a long day of wandering around doing their work.

Well, the night habits of ants vary from one species to another. For instance, the carpenter and sugar ants never slow down; they work throughout regardless of whether it is day or night. You will rarely see these ants during the night, but they can see you.

Ants might not be nocturnal, but they have perfect night vision due to their huge eyes that are filled with photoreceptors. Therefore, every ant in a colony can navigate through barriers that might be on their way of work.

However, despite being night creatures, ants that work at night are a bit slower and might and are less likely to make it to their nest. The ants might also have trouble finding their home at night.

A study at Australia’s Vision Centre (VC) revealed that ants that travel at night take longer to reach their nest as compared to those that travel at dawn. Now you must be wondering when do ants sleep if they work at night as well.

The Sleeping Habits of Ants

At this point, you already know that ants do sleep. So, if ants sleep, what is their sleeping habits? It is very interesting to know that ants do sleep. You might not believe it that some ants actually sleep to the extent of dreaming, but it is very true.

Worker ants are known for their efficiency in work among the ant colonies as they seem to work tirelessly. Their work might seem to be endless, but they take naps multiple times a day. Their queens also take naps routinely and they can sleep up to nine hours a day.

Generally, queen ants take long naps while worker ants, on the other hand, take short but several naps a day. This somehow explains why queen ants live longer than worker ants. If you are not familiar with the life span of ants, queen ants live for years while worker ants only live for a few months.

Scientists believe that worker ants sleep for short periods to ensure that there is enough workforce to protect and serve the ant colonies. This explains why the worker ants only sleep in intervals.

A research that was conducted by Debby Cassill of the University of South Florida in St Petersburg, US, found out that a single worker ant takes an average of 250 naps a day. Each of the naps takes slightly over a minute. Precisely, a worker bee sleeps for about 4 hours and 48 minutes a day.

From the sleeping patterns of the worker ants, it is evident that at least 80% of the worker ants remain awake to serve the colonies. Debby Cassill and her co-workers went ahead to conclude that the worker ants observed the sleeping pattern to ensure work never goes unattended.

However, the research also revealed that the worker ants sleep more when there is less work to be done. But, there always has to be worker ants available just in casework or any other need arises.

Does Light Affect The Sleeping Patterns of Ants?

The presence or absence of light does not affect the sleeping pattern of ants. The queens will take about 9 hours of sleep a day while the worker ants take approximately 4 hours regardless of the presence or absence of light.

Ants stay underground and therefore exposed to light very irregularly. Therefore, unlike humans, the sleeping rhythms of ants are not affected by photoperiods. Instead, their sleeping patterns are dependent on the work at hand as opposed to dark or light periods.

How to Know When Ants Are Asleep

Unlike vertebrates, it is not easy to tell when an ant goes to sleep. Ants do not have eyelids, and thus you have to pay close attention to know that an ant is sleeping. According to Cassill and her team of researchers, an ant is believed to be sleeping if it retracts its antennae and becomes unresponsive to other ants around it.

With mammals, brain activity can be used to determine if a creature is sleeping or awake. Mammals have more brain waves while awake as compare to when sleeping. Ants, on the other hand, have a group of nerve cell bodies that function as their brains. The “brain” is so small such that the signals produced are so weak to be used as a determinant of whether the ants are awake or sleeping.

How Ants Sleep and Wake Up

It is easy to notice an ant that has just come from sleeping. Ever seen an ant that looks sluggish compared to the rest? That could be an ant possibly coming from a short nap. Ants are generally active. However, they could be sluggish just after waking up while still trying to pick on the usual working pace.

However, sluggishness is not always a sign that an ant is from sleeping. Scientists claim that ants can show sleep like behaviors to reduce their food cravings. Reduced biological activity seems to reduce food needs among an ant colony. This is an interesting way for ants to go about food scarcity.

When Do Ants Sleep?

As mentioned earlier, ants sleep in turns. However, there are specific periods when these insects sleep. How often do you come across ants during the cold months of winter? Rarely, right? So, where do the ants go?

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Could they be spending the cold months sleeping somewhere? Various studies show that ants hibernate during winter. This explains why you find ants working so hard during summer. It is because they have to collect enough food to take them through winter as well.

The ant’s metabolism slows down during cold seasons. They, therefore, become less active such that they do not spend time looking for food. Instead, they rely on the food they had collected during summer until the cold season is gone.

Is Sleep Important to Ants?

Humans need adequate sleep to get refreshed and function efficiently. Vertebrates, specifically humans, need enough sleep to have a good memory and proper mental functioning. However, ants do not have much to think about. So, why would sleep be really necessary for them?

Ants might not need sleep to enhance their memory and brain activity, but they do need sleep as a form of physical relaxation. Also, most creatures use sleep to remove toxins from their brains. Ants could use some detoxing as well.

Researchers came to the conclusion that sleep serves the same purpose to both queen and worker ants. The long life span of the queen ants is associated with the good sleep they get as compared to the worker ants.

From Debby Cassill’s research, it was noted that worker ants are the disposable part of the colony. This is because they work tirelessly to keep the queens happy and healthy but take very little nap time. As a result, the worker ants have a short life span as compared to the queens.

Do Ants Rest Besides Sleep?

You will often hear people asking if ants ever get tired or even get leg pains for walking tirelessly. It might sound like a weird though at first, but it is for sure something worth thinking about. But the truth is, all organisms and even microorganisms experience fatigue and maybe metabolic stress over time.

Well, you must have heard of the phrase, “working tirelessly like an ant.” That does not mean ants do not get fatigued. It basically means that they are energetic and determined to accomplish their mission, without necessarily showing any signs of fatigue like humans.

Vertebrates are known to chill at times; not sleeping but just relaxed without having to do anything; probably meditating. Are insects, especially ants capable of doing the same? Well, after monitoring ants for some time, Debby and her team of other scientists only realized that ants sleep and stay active if not sleeping.

However, scientists were able to tell that ants can either sleep deeply or lightly. But, only queen ants sleep deeply to the point of dreaming. The workers and scouts spend most of their time moving around and looking for food. The queens, on the other hand, spend most of their time laying eggs constantly within the nest.

The Fire Ants’ Dreams

Unlike the worker ants, queen ants sleep an average of 90 times a day, with every nap-taking about 6 minutes. Therefore, every queen ant sleep for approximately 9 hours a day. But, even more interesting, the research revealed that queen ants dream while sleeping.

So, you might be wondering how Debby and her colleagues came into the conclusion that queen ants dream. The researchers had a few queens and worker ants that they were monitoring on film 24/7. From the film, the researchers realized that the queens slept in distinctive ways.

The queens slept with their mouths open and antennae half raised at times. Also, it was observed that the queens could easily get aroused by each other and the workforce while still sleeping.

But if taking a deep nap, the queens seemed to sleep with their mouths closed, and antennae retracted. However, they would frequently quiver the retracted antenna while still in their sleep.

Debby and her colleagues related the antennae movement to the rapid eye movement that happens with vertebrates when they seem to be dreaming. Therefore, it was concluded that ants, and specifically queen ants dream while sleeping.

It was also noted that unlike the worker ants, queens go to sleep together. The queens physically huddle together when it is time to sleep. They also wake up together, such that if one of them wakes up, the rest of them gets up a well.

From an imagination point of view, queens sleep and wake up at the same time probably to avoid secrets from each other. For instance, if one of the queens was to wake up before others, she could probably convince the workers to make her the living queen. Therefore, the queens sleep while huddled together to avoid such insecurities (Please note that this is imaginative and not scientific).

What Ants Dream of

It is surprising to know that ants actually sleep and dream. But, it would be even more interesting to know what the creatures dream about as they do not have much to think about while awake.

It is not quite clear what ants dream about, but it has to be something related to what they do when awake. Probably the queens laying eggs and the work ants getting food and protecting the colony.

Bottom Line: Do Ants Sleep?

As much as scientists have tried to understand the sleeping patterns of ants, a better part of it has remained a mystery. However, it is evident that ants need sleep for the survival of the colony. The queens need plenty of sleep for reproduction. Unfortunately, the worker ants do not get the luxury of sleep despite having to work the most.

Can Any Animal Survive Without Sleep?

Some do it hanging upside down. Some do it for a few hours at a time. Some do it buried under a blanket of mud.

Regardless of their preferred mode, bats, elephants, frogs, honeybees, humans and more have something in common: They all sleep.

In fact, scientists have yet to find a truly sleepless creature. But is sleep really necessary for survival? [Why Do We Sleep?]

The dangers of sleeplessness

Most humans will acknowledge that sleep is absolutely necessary.

People often struggle to function after even just one sleepless night. Poor sleep over the long term has been linked to a host of negative health effects, from heart disease and stroke to weight gain and diabetes. These connections, and the fact that all animals seem to slumber, suggest that sleep must play an essential function for animals. But what is that function? Does sleep allow the brain to repair damage and process information? Is it necessary for energy regulation in the body? Scientists and thinkers as far back as the Greek philosopher Aristotle have offered explanations for why we sleep, and yet, the exact purpose of sleep remains an open question.

In the 1890s, Marie de Manacéïne, one of the first female physicians in Russia, was troubled by the mystery of sleep.

«We all love life, and we all wish to live as long as possible, but in spite of this, we sacrifice one-third, sometimes even half of our life in sleeping,» Manacéïne once wrote. In her quest to figure out what exactly sleep is, she conducted the first sleep-deprivation experiment in animals.

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Using an approach that now seems quite cruel, the physician kept puppies continuously awake, finding that they died after a few days of sleep deprivation. Over subsequent decades, further sleep-deprivation experiments using other animals, like rodents and cockroaches, found similarly fatal results. However, the underlying cause of death in these cases, and how it relates to sleep, is still unknown.

Super short-sleepers

While total sleeplessness seems dangerous, some creatures can get by with remarkably short bouts of sleep. They could be the key to understanding sleep’s function, scientists have said.

A study published in February in the journal Science Advances monitored the sleeping habits of fruit flies.

«We found that some flies hardly ever slept,» study co-author Giorgio Gilestro, a lecturer of systems biology at Imperial College London, told Live Science.

Gilestro and his colleagues observed that 6 percent of female flies slept for less than 72 minutes each day, compared to the average of 300 minutes that the other females slept. One female even slept as little as 4 minutes a day on average. In a further experiment, the researchers deprived the flies of 96 percent of their sleep time. But these flies didn’t die prematurely, like the Russian puppies did; these virtually sleepless flies instead lived just as long as a control group that was left to sleep normally.

Now, Gilestro and a few other researchers are starting to wonder if sleep is less necessary than people have thought.

«Some animals seem to survive on far less sleep than previously expected based on restorative theories for the function of sleep,» Niels Rattenborg, who studies sleep in birds at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany, told Live Science.

In a 2016 study, Rattenborg and his colleagues outfitted great frigatebirds (Fregata minor) in the Galápagos Islands with a small device to measure electrical activity in the brain. The monitors showed that the birds sometimes slept in one hemisphere of their brains at a time while they were soaring over the ocean. They sometimes even slept in both hemispheres simultaneously while in flight.

Sleeping while flying could be common among other bird species — such as common swifts (Apus apus), which can fly for 10 months without landing — though scientists have no direct evidence for this.

But perhaps more surprisingly, the study found that the frigatebirds, while flying, slept on average just 42 minutes per day, even though they typically got more than 12 hours of shut-eye on land.

Does Rattenborg think we’ll ever find an animal that doesn’t sleep at all?

«Anything is possible,» he said. «However, an emerging pattern among the studies of short-sleeping animals is that none are completely sleepless. This preservation of a little sleep suggests that there is a minimum amount of sleep that is essential, even in these remarkable short sleepers.»

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Ants can do pretty amazing things when they work together, like building elaborate nests and even creating bridges from their bodies . One team of scientists wanted to know how these social insects figure out how to take on their various roles within a colony.

Given that “survival of the fittest” is how we think of evolution, it can seem a little strange that some creatures (like ants and humans) thrive in groups. Hoping to understand this, researchers led by Yuko Ulrich from The Rockefeller University studied behavior in increasingly large groups of ants to learn how division of labor emerges. Eventually, studies like these could even help us understand our own human behavior.

“Even though we work with genetically identical individuals that are as homogeneous as you can get them, there still seems to be some variabliity between them in terms of their tendencies,” study corresponding author Daniel Kronauer from The Rockefeller University told Gizmodo. “Where do these differences come from?”

The researchers observed the behaviors of clonal raider ants, an especially useful species for a study like this. The ants don’t have a queen and reproduce clonally, meaning female ants lay eggs that don’t need to be fertilized to produce more female ants.

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Studying lots of nearly genetically identical individuals isn’t easy, so the researchers developed a tracking system in which they marked the ants with paint dots and filmed the colonies so a computer program could track the behavior. They observed seven to eight colonies, each of one, two, four, six, eight, 12, or 16 worker ants with an equal number of larvae. They measured how much time the ants spent around the nest and how consistent that behavior was . This can serve as a proxy for behaviors like foraging and nursing the larvae.

For groups with as few as six ants, individuals began behaving differently from one another. But perhaps even more surprising was that, it appeared that larvae developed into adults sooner the larger the group was, according to the paper published in Nature. Faster larval development is considered a measure of fitness, the researchers say.

“We provide the same amount of food per larva, there’s nothing different other than the group size,” Kronauer said. “That’s something I hadn’t expected.”

How Do Ants Communicate?

Ants can look for food or even move their nest around your house. So having a pet safe ant killer is necessary. The way that ants communicate makes them very effective when it comes to moving in large groups. As far as we know, ants communicate with each other through touching, body language, pheromones, sound, and vibrations.

Communicating by touching one another

The key to this type of communication is the ant’s antennae. For a long time, scientists believed the antenna is just a receptor of information. However, recent studies showed that it works as a two-way form of communication.

The antenna is used for sending and receiving chemical signals known as pheromones. These chemical signals are specific to each colony. So ants use their antennae to identify their friends or potential intruders. Furthermore, ants have the ability to store hydrocarbons in their mandibles. By touching mandibles, an ant will find what the role of the other ant is or if it is from a different colony.

This is why you often see ants bumping into each other. It is their way of meeting and greeting one another. Nevertheless, if two ants from different colonies encounter each other, the ant without any backup will quickly retreat.

During the research, scientists washed away the chemicals from the antenna of an ant. The nest mates of that particular ant were unable to identify it as one of their colony members and considered it an intruder.

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Moving the colony’s nest

When the colony is relocating the nest, the worker ants are usually touching each other. As they transport larvae and pupae, they will form an „ant chain” so workers don’t get lost. This method is more efficient than a pheromone marked trail.В

If the whole colony is moving, multiple pheromone trails from multiple ants could cross one another. This could lead to a state of confusion and a big part of the colony might get lost.

Body language communication

If a worker ant meets another member of the colony, it will give information by moving her body in a specific manner or by simply touching the other ant. An ant gently pressing particular areas on another ant’s head will determine a jaw reflex. This way, the first ant has the opportunity to share some of its food found at the end of the trail.

Sharing food as an act of friendship

A hungry ant might ask a nest mate for something to eat by poking with its antennae. The ant will do this if it feels hungry or simply to get a taste of the colony’s new food source. What you should know about this type of communication is that ants share food that has been already digested.В

Keep in mind that an ant has 2 stomachs. It uses one for its necessities and the second one is used to store food to feed other members of the colony. The process is called trophallaxis and can be observed in insects such as wasps, termites, etc. It can be done mouth to mouth or even anus to mouth.

Although it might seem gross for us, ants don’t look at it this way. It is a highly valued practice amongst ants as a form of friendly interaction.

Communicating through pheromones

A pheromone is a chemical substance produced and released in the environment by ants. They use pheromones to influence the behavior or physiology of other ants. The pheromone’s strength is of great importance as it corresponds with how obedient to a request an ant will be.

Glands located on the ant’s head, thorax, gaster, and legs are responsible for producing and storing the chemical substances. The pheromones are detected by highly sensitive sensors placed on the antenna.В

Ants have the ability to detect and differentiate between pheromones. This means some species can pick up pheromones coming from an unfamiliar colony and avoid encountering foreign ants.В

Marking the way

If an ant is searching for food, it might travel up to 100 yards from the colony’s nest. Traveling this far away from the nest could put any ant at the risk of getting lost. To avoid this possibly deadly situation, worker ants will use pheromones to mark the way back to the nest.

When looking for a new source of food, the ant will lay down a dotted line of pheromones. On the way back to its colony, the ant will reinforce the strength of the pheromones by laying down a continuous one.

The strength of the trail will alert other ants that a food source is available nearby. In no time at all, hundreds of worker ants will follow the trail to the food source. The trail reinforcement will be continued as other ants will lay down pheromones on their way to the food. The process continues until there is no resource to be carried back to the colony’s nest.В

Nuptial flight pheromones

Ant queens use pheromones to find suitable partners. The queen releases big volumes of pheromones during the nuptial flight. Alerted by these specific pheromones, drones will come searching for the queen.В

Queens use pheromones in order to make the reproduction process faster. This is of great importance since queens are dependent on energy reserves. It is crucial for them to save time and effort when looking for a mate.

Ants communicate through sound

It has been recently observed by scientists that some ant species can communicate through sound. Furthermore, this type of communication may play a big part in their survival as they alert each other of dangerous situations or intruders. More than 200 species living in Europe and Asia can produce various sounds.

These species have something similar to a spike on their abdomen. By touching the spike with one of their back legs, they produce different sounds. Earlier research showed that the ants use this system as an emergency alert in order to call for help or signal an enemy.

Larvae or young ants don’t have yet a functional spike as they have softer outer skeletons than adult ants. As they grow up, the outer shell becomes harder forming a tough exoskeleton. Despite having a specialized spike, ant pupae (a phase between larvae and adult) will be taught not to use it and to remain silent.В

Further research demonstrated that older pupae and mature ants create different sounds when they have an emergency. While younger ants were simply calling for help, adult ones were also giving information about the dangerous situation.

Testing the ant’s communication

Scientists recorded these calls for help and played them through speakers into a controlled environment. In both cases, adult ants reacted in the same way. They went over to the speakers, touched them with their antennae and stayed there protecting the sound source.

In order to be sure it wasn’t a coincidence, researchers played through the speakers white noise. This time, there was no reaction from the adult workers ants. Results demonstrate that ants use sounds in order to call for help.

During the same experiment, scientists cut the abdominal spike from a group of adult ants. The experiment continued with creating a dangerous situation for the colony. The nest was damaged and the ants without the abdominal spike were spilled into a controlled area together with some normal larvae and young pupae.

In general, ants save their colony members in exact order: adults, pupae, and larvae are last. This time, the colony ants saved the pupae and the larvae but paid no attention to the adults. They acted like the adults without the spike were not even there.

The noise made by ants together with their pheromones provides complex information. They could even signal their social status in order to be rescued. Despite not completely understanding how ants communicate in such large societies, scientists believe the spike plays an important role in mature pupae.В

They have a different scent than larvae but are unable to produce the pheromones that an adult is producing so using the spike is a helpful way to communicate.

Communicating through vibrations

Ants are capable of detecting tiny soundwaves. They even can notice another ant worker crawling from a distance of a few feet. This type of communication plays an important part in the colony’s safety. If a worker ant spots a group of foreign ants coming to their nest, the entire colony will be alerted.

There is no surprise that ants have an effective way to communicate. Don’t forget that an ant colony might have thousands or even a few millions of members.

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