Paper wasps have flair for recalling faces

Last Updated: Sunday, December 4, 2011 - 17:21

Washington: Paper wasps, possessing brains less than a millionth of the size of that of humans, have evolved a similar face-learning abilities, a study reveals.

"Wasps and humans have independently evolved similar and very specialized face-learning mechanisms, despite the fact that everything about the way we see and the way our brains are structured is different," said graduate student Michael Sheehan.

Sheehan worked with evolutionary biologist Elizabeth Tibbetts from the University of Michigan on the face-recognition study.

"That`s surprising and sort of bizarre," said Sheehan.

The study marks the first time that any insect has demonstrated such a high level of specialized visual learning, said Sheehan, who led the study, the journal Science reported.

In earlier research, Tibbetts showed that paper wasps recognize individuals of their species and behave more aggressively toward wasps with unfamiliar faces, according to a university statement.

In their latest study, Sheehan and Tibbetts trained wasps to discriminate between two different images mounted inside a T-maze, with one image displayed at each end of the top arm of the T.

They found that the paper wasps, which prey on caterpillars, were able to differentiate between two of their own species faster and more accurately than a pair of caterpillar photos of two different geometric patterns or a pair of computer-altered wasp faces.

The paper wasps learned to pick the correct unaltered wasp face about three-quarters of the time.


First Published: Sunday, December 4, 2011 - 17:21

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