Bees Do It II

Those bees!  It seems we just found out that they can count, and now here comes another challenge to traditional conceptions of the mind and who has one.  It turns out that bees can recognize individual faces:

A honeybee brain has a million neurons, compared with the 100 billion in a human brain. But, researchers report, bees can recognize faces, and they even do it the same way we do.

Bees and humans both use a technique called configural processing, piecing together the components of a face — eyes, ears, nose and mouth — to form a recognizable pattern, a team of researchers report in the Feb. 15 issue of The Journal of Experimental Biology.

You ever feel that bee you swotted has it in for you?  Well, that’s possible.

8 thoughts on “Bees Do It II

  1. I was initially quite excited by this announcement, but then I read the article. It turns out bees can recognize HUMAN faces. I thought it was all going to be about how they recognized BEE faces, and that was something that really captured my imagination.

  2. Jays and, I think, crows can recognize human faces, too, and researchers who capture and tag them have to wear masks when doing so, because otherwise the birds will not only recognize and harass them later on, but they’ll encourage other birds to do so too.

  3. My curiosity is piqued though…
    Considering that human beings are very good at recognising faces within of their own particular race (and I use that term a bit liberally here), I wonder, were those bees able to recognise different faces within a race group, or could they just distinguish asian features from caucasian etc?
    Are there bees with prosopaganosia?

  4. “not because they know what a face is but because they had learned the relative arrangement and order of the features” says the cited article. If this were presented as a study of apine recognition of face-like patterns, would it have been picked up by the Times?
    Interesting too as another piece of evidence for a theory of mind as an assemblage of evolutionarily developed subroutines cognosed by a self-regarding awareness, along Strawson’s lines.

  5. @Iga: Pigeons do it too–and they do better at recognizing & remembering faces than undergrads do. They also do better than undergrads at telling impressionist from cubist paintings, and recognizing kinds of trees–though these tasks take training, surprisingly enough.

  6. About birds: all true, as far as I know. The thing about bees is that they are insects.
    Richard: I think the contrast between recognizing “face-like structures” and recognizing faces may be problematic. They can learn to distinguish faces from other structures, it seems. So they seem to be like toddlers who can be described as recognizing dollar bills or pound notes before they have a clue about what money is.

    It turns out that some major theories of concepts are simply similarity-based and are hard pushed to include “knowing what something is” beyond recognizing similarity to class members. (Or so I argue in forthcoming work…)

    CF: it might be specieist of us, I suppose, that we make a lot of their ability to recognize us.

  7. Roger: that’s fascinating, about the pigeons.

    jj: it makes sense for urban birds to evolve the ability to recognize individual humans, but it’s intriguing to find that humans are so relevant to bees that they would also evolve in this direction.

  8. lga, as you may well know, it is now thought that we use the regions involved in face recognition to recognize other things we get focused on. E.g., birders use it to recognize species of birds and some proportion of the human race uses it to recognize kinds of cars.

    I suspect that the ability in bees evolved to recognize plants. Bees, it turns out, are very good at one-lesson learning. The effectiveness of that would be greatly enhanced if they were good at recognizing different kinds of flowers.

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