Do Ants Sleep?
Why do ants sleep? That question has baffled scientists for years. Worker ants, once used as a symbol of efficiency and business, now survive on the same insect equivalent of several hundred small naps each day. Their queen, on the other hand, often sleeps for up to nine hours each day. So how do ants sleep?
There are two schools of thought on this question, both of which are quite distinct from one another. One school of thought suggests that ants sleep through a process called molting, during which they shed their exoskeleton (the segmented, hard exoskeleton that makes up the body of an adult ant) in preparation for new ones to grow back. Another school of thought suggests that ants don’t sleep. They just wake up one day, find food, eat it, and then return to sleep.
Scientists have some trouble agreeing on whether or not ants actually sleep. One school of thought is led by Richard C. Laramy, a professor at the University of Chicago. He argues that although ants do dream, they do not dream in the traditional sense of being aware that something is happening while they are awake. Instead, he says, “the brain is very active during the daytime, and the eyes move and follow the movement of the brain’s activity.” Because these cells communicate with the antennae of the colony, he says that ants wake up from their dream-like state and then move toward their food.
Although it sounds like sleep, another school of thought maintains that ants may only dream during the daytime. These theories suggest that fire ants may only dream during the night and move toward their food during the daytime. However, colonies of fire ants do sleep at night, and their activity can be noticed by the black dots that are found when light is shone on them. This research suggests that ants may be dreaming, but they are only half asleep.
The second way that they sleep is by daylight napping. Ants spend many of their waking hours sleeping, so most of the time during the day, they are sleeping. A worker ant will wake up several times throughout the day and at certain times throughout the week, depending on how long it has been working. This worker ants unique sleeping pattern is called a diurnal rhythm.
Final Thought About Ants Sleep
Finally, some ants sleep through the night while others are awake for a short period of time. Known as nocturnal ants, they have a very different sleep pattern. They will wake up once their foraging for food has been completed but will stay asleep throughout the day while foraging. Some researchers think that these types of ants have the ability to detect predators by smell, which allows them to remain alert even when their foraging is complete. Other scientists think that they simply wake up briefly every few hours.
In fact, scientists have discovered that worker ants only sleep for 9.4 hours a day, which makes them seem like sloths. They do, however, have very interesting daytime behaviors. For instance, when they sense heat, they will actually move from one area of the colony to another, or they will climb a tree to cool themselves off. You seldom see them wandering dazed and confused about their surroundings or just standing still and stiff as aboard.