We all struggle to communicate after a sleepless night, let alone pull off our best dance moves, and it seems that honeybees are no different. Sleep-deprived bees are less proficient than their well-rested hive mates at indicating the location of a food source to other members of the colony by waggle dancing — the figure-of-eight dance used to communicate the quality and location of nectar supplies to the hive — according to a study published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1. Like all animals, European honeybees (Apis mellifera) rely on a sleep-like state of inactivity to survive — but sleep in insects and the effects of sleep deprivation on their behaviour are poorly understood.
Barrett Klein, who led the study as a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, says that sleep deprivation could conceivably affect bees when hives are invaded by predators or parasites, when apiculturists transport colonies over long distances, or as an everyday consequence of the busy nature of hives. “Bees bustle around, frequently bumping into each other,” he says. “It's also possible that sleep deprivation could exacerbate colony collapse disorder,” he adds, referring to recent alarming declines in bee populations worldwide, “although this hasn't been tested.”