Bee Sense

Sat, 12/09/2015 - 14:42
bee jon sullivan (PD Photography)

For many years now, studies have shown that bees can be trained to differentiate between a variety of tastes and smells (1). Although the bee has a similar sense of smell to that of a human, it has a very different sense of taste. Sniffer bees and wasps can only be trained to detect a single scent from substances, which range from explosive materials and illegal drugs to plant and human diseases. They can identify certain cancers from the patient’s breath alone! Besides taste and smell, honeybees can be also trained to identify different colours, shapes, and patterns. Honeybees can count up to four (2) and also use pattern recognition to identify human faces (3).

Probably one of the most unusual experiments carried out on bees was one in which honeybees were shown to be able to discriminate between five different Monet and Picasso paintings (4), presented either as colour or grayscale versions. This suggests that bees do not use luminance or colour but do this by ‘extracting and learning the characteristic visual information inherent in each painting style’.

Like bees, wasps are beneficial insects but rarely recognised as such by the general public with fewer experiments having been carried on their inherent skills. As true carnivores, they engage in a lot of insect collecting as predators of a number of pest insects, including aphids and beetle larvae. As such, wasps play a vital role in many ecological systems.


Honeybee Image © Jon Sullivan


1. Wiki, 2014.

2. Gross HJ, Pahl M, Si A, Zhu H, Tautz J, et al. (2009) Number-Based Visual Generalisation in the Honeybee. PLoS ONE 4(1): e4263. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004263

3. Dyer AG1, Neumeyer C, Chittka L. (2005). Honeybee (Apis mellifera) vision can discriminate between and recognise images of human faces. J Exp Biol. 208(Pt 24):4709-14.

4. Wu, W.,A.M. Moreno, J. M. Tangen, J. Reinhard. (2013). Honeybees can discriminate between Monet and Picasso paintings, Journal of Comparative Physiology A. 199:45-55