When do ants sleep?

When do ants sleep?


Ants sleep intermittently, often taking hundreds of brief naps throughout the day, according to a study on ant sleeping habits.

Researchers Deby Cassill, Skye Brown, and Devon Swick of the University of Southern Florida in St. Petersburg, together with George Yanev of the University of Texas in Arlington, conducted a study on the sleeping patterns of the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta.

The study found that Solenopsis invicta workers sleep, on average, 253 times per day, with each sleep episode lasting around 1.1 minutes, for a grand total of 4 hours and 38 minutes of sleep.

In contrast, Solenopsis invicta queens sleep, on average, 92 times per day, with each sleep epsiode lasting around 6 minutes, for a grand total of 9 hours and 12 minutes of sleep.

“The large number and short naps by workers means that jobs in the nest never go unattended. There is always a worker available when the need arises. When work is slow, workers sleep more,” says Cassill.

Worker ants were found to sleep in one of three places: on the ceiling, against the chamber wall, or in the center of the chamber floor.

Queen ants, on the other hand, were found to huddle together with other queens and synchronize their sleep. According to Cassill, “It’s very cosy. The synchrony of queens occurs because, like hound dogs, they pile atop each other when they sleep. When awake, they separate.”

Given that fire ants spend most of their time underground, the study found that, as expected, sleep was unaffected by light/dark cycles.

If you’re interested in ants and ant behavior, consider checking out Antkeeper, my ant colony simulation game. At the time of writing, Antkeeper is still in development. If you’re interested in playing the game or following its development, please subscribe to the Antkeeper mailing list!

Cover image is a derivative of “Solenopsis invicta - fire ant worker” by Alex Wild, used under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication license.

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