* Picture from http://myrmecos.wordpress.com.
In a recent study for the Journal of Insect Behaviour researchers from the University of South Florida have described the sleeping habits of a colony of fire ants, revealing that while the queens have up to ninety leisurely six-minute dozing sessions per day, the worker ants take around 250 sixty-second naps, ensuring that at any moment eighty per cent of the workforce is awake and fully functional. While this is all very beneficial for the colony, surviving on around four hours sleep per day means the workers generally only live to be six months old,* whereas the well-rested queen ants can live for many years.
The research also reveals that queen ants have two very distinct modes of slumber: the light doze, which can be identified by half-raised antennae and a gaping mouth, and the deep sleep, which prompts them to close their mouths and retract their antennae. During this deep sleep, the team observed a “rapid antennal movement (RAM),” suggesting that the queen ants experienced dreaming at their most restful state.
Now with all this microsleeping going on amongst the individuals of the working caste, I can only imagine how it would turn out when something really exciting happened during a routine food expedition:
“Hey, Percy! Guess what? I just found ice-cream!”
“Dude, no way! Where?”
“It’s just over….”
“Howard? Shit. HEY. HOWARD. Christ.”
“Hey guys, what’s up? Why is everyone just standing around when we have a chicken bone to action?”
“Howard found ice-cream.”
“He’s like, ‘It’s just over…’…”
“Percy? Shit. Hey Howard, Percy said you found ice-cream?”
“Ughhh. Wait – what? What time is it?”
“I don’t know, 2:30 or something. Where’s the ice-cream?”
“Huh? I don’t even… Ugh, just give me a second… Ha, yeah okay, that works.”
“Hey Howard, did you tell Jesse about the ice-cream?”
“Oh shit, sorry. Haha he’s drooling. So… ice-cream?”
“Ice-cream? Wait, you mean that wasn’t a dream? Percy? PERCY…? Shit.”
I guess that’s why they use chemicals to communicate.
* Which does not bode well for those of us who frequently subsist on roughly this amount during the week. I might actually literally die before graduating.