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Insects Recognize Faces Using Processing Mechanism Similar to That of Humans

Conventional wisdom holds that the ability to recognize faces requires a complex mammalian brain. But some insects are surprisingly adept at this task

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The wasps and bees buzzing around your garden might seem like simple-minded creatures. They build nests, forage for nectar, raise their young and then die, their lives typically playing out over the course of a single year or less. Some of these species rival humans and other primates in at least one intellectual skill, however: they recognize the individual faces of their peers.

More specifically, members of a species of paper wasp can perceive and memorize one another's unique facial markings and are able to use this information to distinguish individuals during subsequent interactions, much as humans navigate their social environment by learning and remembering the faces of family, friends and colleagues. Further, even certain insects that do not normally memorize faces in the wild can be trained to do so—and can at times even learn to tell human faces apart.

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