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Busy as bee? They need their rest too!

By Paromita Pain - 12 Jan 2011 8:29:0 GMT
Busy as bee? They need their rest too!

It doesn't take research to show that bleary eyed human beings make dangerous drivers and unproductive workers. Now it seems bees too operate the same way. Sleep deprived honey bees aren't the best locators of food sources says new research from the University of Texas at Austin.

Published in the PNASEarly Edition (journal produced by the National Academy of Sciences),this study led by Dr. Barrett Klein, a former ecology, evolution and bahaviour graduate student at the University of Austin, with co authors Arno Klein from Columbia University, Margaret Wray and Thomas Seeley from Cornell University and Ulrich Mueller at The University of Texas at Austin, this study says when workers bees are deprived of adequate hours of rest their communication skills are diminished and they can't convey precisely the location of food sources to their fellow bees thus resulting in weaker hives.

Influencing communication

The importance of sleep in the insect world has been studied before, most notably in the Drosophila flies but this study is the first that examines the way issues of adequate rest and sleep affects the social life of an insect and how issues of communication are influenced. Keeping the resting bees awake in a hive was a challenge.

For this, Dr. Klein created a machine called the "inseminator", a clever concoction of magnets, aluminum and plexiglass. The bees set aside for the experiment were fitted with metal on their back. When the inseminator was waved over the bees, the magnets reacted with the iron on the bees at night, and kept them active throughout their hours of rest. Studying their waggle dance (a term used to describe the figure-eight dance of the honey bee to communicate a nectar source, signaling both distance and direction with particular movements) later, the scientists discovered that while the directions conveyed wasn't wrong it less precise than the directions given by non-sleep deprived bees. As their abstract to the study says, "The deterioration of the honey bee's ability to communicate is expected to reduce the foraging efficiency of nest mates."

To read the paper online visit http://www.pnas.org/content/107/52/22705.full.pdf+html