Next time you’re about to scowl at a wasp, think again.
Researchers at the University of Michigan found that paper wasps, Polistes fuscatus, learn each other’s faces the way humans do. The study was published in Science.
Researchers showed the smart little buggers pictures of other paper wasps, caterpillars, shapes and computer-altered pictures. They set up a maze that required the wasps to choose the right image to find a pathway through it.
The maze travelers learned the faces of the other paper wasps fastest, even though researchers thought the shapes would be the easiest signposts for them to distinguish.
And when researchers changed the wasp images a bit, the wasps struggled to negotiate the maze.
Since paper wasps live in hierarchal colonies with multiple queens, remembering faces is an important skill, the researchers said. It lets them remember if they’ve fought and lost so they don’t waste energy on getting their butt kicked again.
The study noted that this type of colonizing may have spurred the evolution of face recognition since similar wasps that nest alone do not recognize faces as well.
Previous research has shown that paper wasps also evolved another undesirable human trait of acting more aggressively towards wasps with unfamiliar faces.
So the next time you plan on giving a wasp the stink eye, you just might want to smile and walk away.