Honeybees can learn to recognize human faces. Adrian G. Dyer of the University of Cambridge and his colleagues trained the bees by getting the insects to associate black-and-white mug shots with a sweet reward (a sucrose drink) or with a bitter punishment (a quinine solution). During tests, which offered no reward or punishment, smarter bees did not bumble the task. They hovered two to three inches from the photographs before correctly landing near the “reward face” 80 to 90 percent of the time. They also performed well when novel and stick-figure faces were part of the selection. The results demonstrate that face recognition, which might seem to be a sophisticated neural ability, does not need much brainpower—bees have less than 0.01 percent the neurons that humans do. Generating the buzz is the December 15, 2005, Journal of Experimental Biology.
This article was originally published with the title "Sight for Bee Eyes" in Scientific American 294, 2, 28 (February 2006)