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Wasp Memory

October 13, 2008

Paper wasps don’t forget a face, for at least a week, anyway.


Wasps that remember faces….I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

When paper wasp queens emerge from hibernation, they fly around looking for nesting sites. They come across many other queens, which often leads to conflict. Behavioral ecologists Elizabeth Tibbetts and Michael Sheehan of the University of Michigan recently found that the wasps can remember each other for at least a week after a fight, even when they’ve met many other wasps during that time. Sheehan says remembering faces plays an important social function.

Being able to remember individuals is a way to reduce the amount of conflict within a society and for individuals to know their place.

He suspects that the wasps recognize each other by facial patterns that are unique to each individual. It’s a level of social cognition usually seen only in creatures with much larger brains. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.