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Wasp Face Processing

December 13, 2011

Paper wasps, which can recognize each other, seem to process faces in ways similar to humans.



Wasps’ facial expertise.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Paper wasps can recognize each other’s faces.  Now, it’s been shown that they also process faces like humans do. University of Michigan behavioral ecologist Michael Sheehan notes that people can tell faces apart better than houses, cars, or other images.  But we’re also easily confused when the faces are altered.

MICHAEL SHEEHAN (University of Michigan):

By removing parts of the face, people showed deficits in their ability to tell faces apart, or if you can only see part of the face it’s harder to tell it apart as well. And if you rearrange the parts of the face, people have a really hard time. And we don’t find that same pattern in people, when you do it with a different type of object.

His team found the same patterns in paper wasps, but not in another wasp species that doesn’t recognize faces.  Sheehan notes that the eyes and nervous systems of wasps and humans evolved independently, and yet when it comes to faces, they seem to have followed parallel tracks.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.