School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences Faculty Publications and Presentations

Polyphasic Wake/Sleep Episodes in the Fire Ant, Solenopsis Invicta

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Sleep is a well-studied biological process in vertebrates, particularly birds and mammals. Less is know about sleep in solitary and social invertebrates, particularly the ants. This paper reports a study of light/dark periods on worker activity as well as sleep location, posture and the wake/sleep cycles of fire ant workers and queens located in an artificial nest chamber. Workers slept in one of three locations: on the ceiling, against the chamber wall or in the center of the chamber floor. Workers on the ceiling or against the chamber wall slept for longer periods than those at the center of the chamber floor where most grooming and feeding activity occurred. When sleeping, queens huddled together. Their close contact generated synchronized wake/sleep cycles with each other. Sleep posture was distinctly different than wake posture. During deep sleep, queens and workers folded their antennae and were non-responsive to contact by other ants. Another indicator of deep sleep was rapid antennal movement (RAM sleep). Sleep episodes were polyphasic. Queens averaged ~92 sleep episodes per day, each episode lasting ~6 min, for a total of ~9.4 h of sleep per day. Workers averaged ~253 sleep episodes lasting 1.1 min each for a total of ~4.8 h of sleep per day. Activity episodes were unaffected by light/dark periods. Workers were hypervigilant with an average of 80% of the labor force completing grooming, feeding or excavation tasks at any given time. These findings reinforce the parental exploitation hypothesis—sterile workers are a caste of disposable, short-lived helpers whose vigilance and hyperactivty increases the queen’s fitness by buffering her and her fertile offspring from environmental stresses.


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J Insect Behav