Bumble bee workers give up sleep to care for offspring that are not their own


Nagari M, Gera A, Jonsson S, Bloch G. Bumble bee workers give up sleep to care for offspring that are not their own. Current Biology [Internet]. In Press.


Sleep is ubiquitous in vertebrates and invertebrates and its loss is typically associated
with reduced performance, health, or survival, for reasons that are yet unclear [1—3].
Nevertheless, some animals can reduce sleep for increasing foraging time [4], under
predation risk [5—8], during  seasonal migration [9—11], or for having greater mating
opportunities [12,13]. Here we tested the hypothesis that social bumble bee (Bombus
terrestris) workers give-up sleep for improving brood-care. We combined video-
recordings, detailed behavioral analyses, sleep-deprivation experiments, and
response-threshold assessments, to characterize the sleep behavior of worker bees
and showed that immobility bouts of ≥ 5' provide a reliable proxy for sleep. We next
used this index to study sleep with an automated video-based activity monitoring
system. We found that isolated workers severely reduce sleep time in the presence of
both larvae that need to be fed, or pupae that do not. Reduced sleep was also
correlated with around-the-clock activity and wax-pot building, which are typical for
nest-founding mother queens. Cocoons, from which we removed the pupae, elicited a
similar but transient sleep-loss in tending workers, suggesting that the pupa effect on
sleep is mediated by pheromonal signals. Sleep time increased following brood
removal, but remained lower compared to control bees, suggesting that the brood
modulated sleep-need. This first evidence for brood modulation of sleep in an insect
suggests that plasticity in sleep can evolve as a mechanism to improve care for
dependent juveniles, even in social insect workers that do not care for their own

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Last updated on 08/18/2019