Monday, February 1, 2010

Honey Bees Recognize Faces

The New York Times reported today on a study that will appear in the February 15 issue of The Journal of Experimental Biology. The report discusses research that has been conducted on how honey bees recognize human faces. While the researchers were interested in finding clues as to how the honey bee with a brain many times smaller than a human could accomplish some of the same tasks, they revealed honey bee behavior that many beekeepers observe. According to the Times article, bees and humans use the same techniques to distinguish faces even though the human brain has 100 thousand times the capacity of neurons.

I have often heard beekeepers comment about the behavior exhibited by their bees. Many feel that the bees truly get to know their keepers. I feel that I am virtually ignored by the guard bees of hives of the bee yards that I visit most frequently. The honey bees have an extremely acute sense of smell, and most recognition of the beekeeper is probably done by detecting odor. However, there are times that honey bees certainly seem to be able to recognize people by their faces. For a week after I harvest honey, I can expect to have bees seek me out and sting me. These are bees from hives that I walk about without protective gear throughout the year. A day or two after harvesting their honey, I have had bees greet me with a sting as soon as I open the door to step from my truck. Were they irritable after being robbed of their honey, or did they remember the face of the robber? This interesting Times story can be found at The authors of the study indicate that it was their intent to see if honey bee behavior could reveal mechanisms that could be employed by computers for use in facial recognition. Today’s photo is one of the pleasant faces that the bees like to recognize, horticulturist and beekeeper Dallas Holland.


  1. What a fascinating concept that bees recognize faces! I bet that was a fun study to research and report on. This will be my second year of beekeeping and I have been fascinated every step of the way. I will definitely keep this article in the back of my mind during this season and see if I can form some conclusions of my own!

  2. Very interesting, thanks for posting this and the provided link.


  3. HI, Richard. I saw the article on the bees and was fascinated by it! I do something called Face Reading (will be on the TYRA BANKS SHOW tomorrow reading live studio audience). I also love this site. It is beautiful and friendly. One thought: in India the yogis talk about a quality called ahimsa - harmlessness. I bet the guard bees feel your confience and your gentleness, which is why they don't go into high alert?
    Take care,
    Barbara Roberts

  4. Barbara,
    Face reading is a most interesting concept. Thank you for mentioning your endeavor. I am sure that many have felt an instantaneous “gut instinct” feeling when meeting a stranger. Maybe, we read the stranger’s face and equate certain characteristics with personality traits. Both humans and honey bees exhibit subtle communications capabilities. I am sure that many of our insightful skills have not been fully explored.

    One of the reasons that the honey bee genome project was conducted in 2006 was to try to determine how behavior traits evolved and how they may exist in humans. Answers may be revealed for years to come. We have much to learn about ourselves and the honey bee.