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Nursing Bees Suffer Sleep Deprivation

Any human parent of young children will undoubtedly sympathise with the plight of babysitting bees who, as new research has revealed, are liable to suffer sleep deprivation when they are caring for their hive’s young.

The study was published in the journal Current Biology. However, it is interesting to note that in bee colonies the work of caring for the young is performed by so-called “nurse” bees who, as well as caring for the queen’s larvae, must also clean up the hive and help create propolis, the active ingredient in Herstat’s cold sore treatment.

Scientists at Hebrew University looked in-depth at the sleep patterns of brood-tending bumblebees and found that, like humans caring for newborns, they experience significant sleep disturbance when they are nursing bees at the larval and pupal stage of development. It is unclear exactly why they act so selflessly; however, the researchers speculated that it may be because the larvae and pupae emit certain chemicals which alter the nurse bees’ sleeping patterns.

“The fact that the nursing bees sleep so little, even when caring for pupae that do not need to be fed, was the most surprising,” commented Moshe Nagari, the lead author of the Hebrew University study.

“Before this study, we assumed that the main functions of activity around the clock without circadian rhythms in nurse bees is to provide improved feeding to the developing larvae, enabling them to grow rapidly.”

The study adds to a growing body of evidence showing the way that certain living creatures are able to adapt their sleep patterns in certain circumstances – for example, humans with newborn children, birds during their seasonal migrations and fruit flies during mating season.

More about propolis

Bees make propolis by combining their saliva and beeswax with secretions gathered from sap flows, tree buds and other plant sources. It is used as a protective sealant for small gaps in the hive, with larger spaces usually filled with pure beeswax. Propolis has powerful medicinal qualities and is the active ingredient in Herstat’s clinically-proven cold sore treatment.