Researchers have recently discovered that a tiny social wasp from Malaysia employs an additional security measure: facial recognition.
In order to prevent intruders from attacking their hives, wasps typically distinguish friend from foe by sniffing out foreigners. Outsiders usually have a unique scent that is not the same as the home colony. Because the wasps’ nests are found in large groups with as many as 150 built close together, each colony faces persistent landing attempts by outsiders from other nests. In order to find out why and how these Malaysian wasps employ both vision and scent to determine identity, scientists carried out a series of experiments on 50 colonies in the wild.
Close to the nests, the researchers dangled lures made of captured and killed wasps. The lures had been given different treatments. For instance, some lures made from nest mates were coated with a foe’s scent, whereas outsiders were painted with the colony’s odor. “The wasps pay more attention to facial markings than to scent when faced with a possible intruder,” the team reported online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
In tests where the wasps could assess both an intruder’s face and scent, they relied solely on facial recognition and immediately attacked those whose faces they didn’t know thus ignoring their odor. “That’s the safest strategy,” the scientists note because the wasps can recognize another’s face at a distance, but need to actually touch another wasp to detect her scent.
According to national Geographic, Wasps are “an enormously diverse array of insects, with some 30,000 identified species.” We are most familiar with those that are wrapped in bright warning colors. They buzz angrily about in groups and threaten us with painful stings. But most wasps are solitary and non-stinging. They do far more good for humans than harm by controlling insect populations.