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Sleepy Bees

January 3, 2011

Tired bees are poor communicators.


Sleepy honeybees…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Breakdowns in communication can cost time, money, and sometimes even lives. But the consequences of communication failures aren’t unique to human societies. For instance, honeybees tell their hive sisters where to locate food through something called a waggle dance. The angle of a bee’s abdomen denotes the direction of the food and the duration of the dance conveys distance information. But entomologist Barrett Klein of the University of Würzburg and his colleagues found that when bees were sleep deprived, they became less effective communicators.

BARRETT KLEIN (University of Würzburg):
Bees that were deprived of sleep displayed less precise direction information to their sisters. The dance wasn’t necessarily wrong but it was less precise.

Klein says commercial apiculture practices often involve transporting hives in trucks for hundreds of miles at night, so sleep deprivation might affect their productivity. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.