Renowned for being very intelligent and organized, the ant has codes, unlike most of its congeners. If we know that they operate on a hierarchical model, that they help each other and that they are hardworking, what we know less is the way they sleep. And besides, are they really sleeping? Here is all the information you need to know about ant sleep.
Sleep: an essential process in living beings
All living beings sleep, or at least rest. While some only need a few minutes and others a few hours, for a handful of individuals, a few months of rest are necessary! Sleep is essential to slow down cellular aging, but also for normal functioning of the brain and therefore the entire body. Because yes, without sleep, the brain no longer reacts correctly and the body ends up failing. This is a fact common to all specimens having one.
The animal world is quite fascinating, since sleep is not understood in the same way for each species. Dolphins, for example, have, like humans, a brain with two hemispheres. However, he is able to pause only one game at a time, in order to prevent him from drowning!
The ant’s sleep is governed by the safety rules of the colony
Like most animals, the ant also has a brain. This is made up of 100,000 neurons, that is to say, almost 4% of their weight, which is enormous. For comparison, the human brain only represents 2%. In other words, she must rest to recharge her batteries.
However, all curious little ones or those with an anthill in a terrarium have noticed that the activity of ants never stops. The workers work day and night to protect the vulnerability of the colony. The ant has established a sleep schedule to allow workers to sleep while others are active. In turn, they will therefore have active and passive phases. But be careful, depending on the species, sleeping habits can change slightly.
Short naps to harmonize the protection of the queen
Scientists have observed fire ants for a long time. By having marked each of the ants one by one to be able to follow them more easily, they made several discoveries. First of all, because they live underground, their sleep is not indexed to light cycles. They sleep night and day indifferently, without worrying about what time it is. Then, they also found that there were two sleep rhythms in the ants.
The Queen’s Sleep Rhythm
As her title indicates, the queen has privileges and in particular that of being able to sleep 9 consecutive hours. His rest is very similar to that of humans. In deep sleep, she is even capable of dreaming.
The sleep rhythm of workers
Unlike the queen, workers do not have as long a time window to sleep. They take micro-naps asynchronously compared to their peers, several times during the day. On average, a worker ant takes 250 naps per day, lasting just over a minute. Put end to end, the total duration of their sleep amounts to 4 hours and 48 minutes, or half of the queen’s rest time.
In other words, around 80% of the colony remains active day and night. By doing this, the balance and functioning of the nest are ensured more reliably.
Sleep essential to the longevity of the ant
With such a difference in activity and sleep hours, scientists were able to establish a cause and effect link regarding longevity between the queen and the workers. The first can live for several years (up to 6 years). As for the workers, their lifespan is only a few months (between 6 and 12 months), their role only serving to guarantee the comfort of the queen and her royal offspring.
Do ants hibernate?
Many living beings pause. This means that activities slow down due to the cold and lack of food. This is the case with ants. This period is called “diapause”. The colony is less active, the individuals eat less and the queen no longer produces as many broods.
This diapause is similar to a resting phase, but it cannot be described as sleep, because the nest nevertheless remains active. The main activity is therefore to preserve resources to limit the exhaustion of the queen and the workers.
A recent discovery that could change our minds about ants
Fascinated and absorbed by the astonishing work of worker ants, scientists deduced that these little beasts were probably one of the hardiest species. But recently, researchers were able to observe that some individuals did not participate in colony activity.
Far from being in poor health or old, they were literally doing… nothing. They then observed them for a period of 18 days, but the result remained unchanged. Questions regarding their “idle state” remain unanswered. Out of a colony of 225 ants, there were still 103 of them doing nothing, while having little interaction with the other members of the colony. However, several theories are presented:
perhaps they are “soldiers”, whose role is exclusively to defend the colony in the event of attack; perhaps they have a very specific role in the event of an unforeseen event; perhaps they do not know what their place is within the colony; perhaps they pretend not to know their role so as not to conform to it.
However, everyone agrees that the 3 weeks of observation are certainly too short to draw conclusions about the idleness of these ants and thereby destroy the myth of the worker ant.