Bees’ bread and butter is flowers—there’s no reason they should be able to distinguish human faces. But they can.
Back in 2005, Arian Dyer at Monash University showed that bees could identify people who they associated who with sugary snacks. But could they recognize humans, or did they just see them as weird flowers?
Martin Giurfa at France’s Université de Toulouse contacted Dyer to work on that question. First, they drew simple images of facial features—dots for eyes, slashes for nose and mouth. The bees were trained to distinguish between an image with narrower features and one with wider ones.
Then the scientists asked if the insects could distinguish facelike features from non-faces? The bees won sugary rewards when they picked out faces as opposed to pictures that just had random dots and dashes.
Finally, the critters faced their ultimate task: to pick out real faces from those that had the features scrambled. And: score. Bees could indeed differentiate faces from non-faces. The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. Scientists hope that the simple bee brain could be a model for automated facial recognition. Which could help in FBI stings.
[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]