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Bees can recognize human faces

Humans have known about bees for a long time: 8,000-year-old cave paintings in Bicorp, Spain, show early humans scaling trees to collect honey. But modern scientists wanted to know if bees recognize us, which is why researchers have put the insects’ microscopic brains to the test. In a 2005 study, honeybees were trained to memorize pictures of human faces by scientists who rewarded them for correct matches with droplets of sugar water. While a bee’s-eye view isn’t as clear as our own gaze, the buzzing insects were able to correctly differentiate between faces up to 90% of the time — even two days after first seeing them, and when the sweet incentives were removed.

The emerging research into bee brains shows that not all living creatures need the complex brain systems humans have in order to recognize and recall environmental differences, but some researchers say that’s not entirely shocking. The Apis mellifera (aka the European honeybee) can visit up to 5,000 flowers in one day, distinguishing between buds that give off beaucoup nectar and those that don’t. So, it makes sense that bees have some form of working memory. And unlocking how bee brains work has practical applications for both us and them: Tech developers may be able to fine-tune artificial intelligence systems (in part by understanding how such tiny brains work so efficiently), and entomologists can better focus on supporting these crucial insects, which are responsible for an estimated 80% of food crop pollination.

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