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Matt:

I have a question for you-- do ants ever sleep?

Bill Goehring, San Diego

Rust never sleeps, but ants do. At least that's what bug researchers say, and we'll have to take their word for it since ants don't have eyelids, they don't snore, and I've never seen one sprawled out, drooling on the couch in front of the TV. "Sleep" may be stretching a point, actually. In the bug lab, a dozing ant is one that slows down, doesn't wave its antennae very much, and sort of hangs out staring vacantly into space for a while. Two researchers actually managed to fit some tiny electrodes onto tiny ants' even tinier heads to detect much, much tinier electrical activity from their very, very extremely tiny brains. The PhDs swear they observed slowed brain activity during these resting periods, though they admit ants don't have much in the gray-matter department. Who said science isn't fun? Anyway, these "sleeping" periods lasted for about eight minutes out of each 12-hour period-- every other one of these interludes is more like a nap than actual sleep. Groups of ants seemed to coordinate these rests so the whole colony doesn't flake out at the same time.

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