But how robust was the bees' ability to process the "face's" visual information? How would the bees cope with more complex faces? This time the team embedded the stick and dot faces in face-shaped photographs. Would the bees be able to learn the arrangements of the features against the backgrounds yet recognise the same stick and dot face when the face photo was removed? Amazingly the insects did, and when the team tried scrambling real faces by moving the relative positions of the eyes, nose and mouth, the bees no longer recognised the images as faces and treated them like unknown patterns.
So bees do seem to be able to recognise face-like patterns, but this does not mean that they can learn to recognise individual humans. They learn the relative arrangements of features that happen to make up a face-like pattern and they may use this strategy to learn about and recognize different objects in their environment.
What is really amazing is that an insect with a microdot-sized brain can handle this type of image analysis when we have entire regions of brain dedicated to the problem. Giurfa explains that
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The Company of Biologists