Bees recognize faces

Can Bees Recognize Humans? [Do Bees Know Their Beekeeper?]

As Beekeepers, we’d like to think the little bees we care for know who we are. Maybe we feel as though certain hives “warm up” to us, or that our bees are less aggressive towards us, relative to other visitors.

Can bees recognize human faces?

Studies show that yes, bees can recognize human faces. However, it’s unlikely a bee can remember your face specifically.

That being said, the answer to the above is not straight forward. While some beekeepers insist that their bees treat them differently to strangers, there is not much evidence to suggest bees recognise specific human faces. However, there is evidence to suggest that bees can recognise human faces in general, or more specifically, the composition of a human face.

A Study performed by Adrian Dyer, Martin Giurfa, and Aurore Avarguès-Weber, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology in 2010, indicated bees were capable of recognising face-like patterns.

An initial study performed by Adrian Dyer, in which bees were trained to associate human faces with sugar snacks, seemed to indicate that bees could indeed recognise human faces, but Martin Giurfa from the Université de Toulouse, France was not so sure. Martin suspected that because bees were being rewarded with sugar when they chose a picture of a human face, they were not identifying the images as faces, but as bizarre flowers.

Adrian Dyer, Martin Giurfa, and Aurore Avarguès-Weber then worked together seeking to answer not if bees recognize human faces, but if they were learning the configuration of a face, the arrangement of features, in order to identify the picture that would see them rewarded.

Amazingly it seemed that not only could bees remember a basic face configuration using just lines and dots, they could also recognise much more complex face configurations, as well as “classify” what this type of image was, meaning that even with small changes to the “faces”, the bees could still recognise them. This was further supported when it was noted that jumbled-up faces, where key features were mixed around, were no longer recognised by the trained bees.

Here’s an interesting video from the Dodo about a kind woman and her unlikely friend!

Do bees recognize their beekeeper?

Studies have shown that bees can recognise human faces as a composition, which is most likely a by-product of their ability to recognise and remember flowers. So, while it’s unlikely bees can recognize their beekeepers face as an individual, there are other ways they can identify organisms near the hive, with smell being one of the primary methods.

Bees use “smell” for many things, including alerting other bees to danger with an alarm pheromone released when one stings a potential threat. This alerts other bees to potential danger near the hive and is also the reason you should wash your clothes if stung by a bee, as this pheromone can linger on your clothing.

What Do Beekeepers think?

I’ve trawled through various forums, articles, and papers to find out if other beekeepers think bees recognize their beekeepers. Below are some summations of the main arguments I managed to find.

Bees DO recognize their beekeepers!

  • My bees treat me differently to visitors to my apiary.
  • Spending a lot of time around my bees has left them much calmer in my presence specifically.
  • Bees are extremely sensitive to “smell”, so its perfectly possible that they can recognise and remember your scent.
  • Bees can teach each other new skills, so they might very well be able to teach other bees to be calmer in an individual’s presence.
  • If I make a mistake opening my hive, my bees will show their displeasure for a few hours, or even days.

Bees DO NOT recognize their beekeepers!

  • Bees do not live long enough to become familiar with you.
  • Humans always anthropomorphise, and it does bees a disservice.
  • Bees don’t pass down knowledge on to other bees via fairy tales or the like.
  • Beekeepers are naturally calmer and more careful around bees, so bees just leave them alone.
  • The beekeeper merely becomes a normalized presence of their environment which the bees adapt to.

What do you think?

So, it seems like there’s a real split in opinion, and while bees might just get used to having a beekeeper nearby, regardless of the actual person it might be, is there any harm in believing that our Bees might just know us? I think I know which side I land on.

(My bees love me. Explicitly).

How about you? Where do you land on this subject? Let me know in the comments below as I’d love to hear your opinions!


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