Specialized Face Learning Is Associated with Individual Recognition in Paper Wasps

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Science  02 Dec 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6060, pp. 1272-1275
DOI: 10.1126/science.1211334

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We demonstrate that the evolution of facial recognition in wasps is associated with specialized face-learning abilities. Polistes fuscatus can differentiate among normal wasp face images more rapidly and accurately than nonface images or manipulated faces. A close relative lacking facial recognition, Polistes metricus, however, lacks specialized face learning. Similar specializations for face learning are found in primates and other mammals, although P. fuscatus represents an independent evolution of specialization. Convergence toward face specialization in distant taxa as well as divergence among closely related taxa with different recognition behavior suggests that specialized cognition is surprisingly labile and may be adaptively shaped by species-specific selective pressures such as face recognition.

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