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Do Bees Recognize Their Own Beekeeper?

As passionate beekeepers, we like to think the little bees we care for know who we are. Maybe we feel like certain hives tend to “warm-up” to us when our bees tend to show less aggression toward us than visitors.

Our honeybees may look pretty much all alike to us as beekeepers, but it seems that we may not look all alike to them. A recent study has found that honeybees can learn to recognize human faces in photos and even remember them for at least two days.

With this new information, you might not feel as crazy as I did when I first thought my bees recognized me! Continue reading to find out how bees recognize you and what this could mean.

What Do Bees See?

Very early in the beekeeping community, it was noticed that honey bees have a significant memory for a place. If a hive were moved within a certain distance, the bees would fly home from the field, expecting to find it there. This indicated that they do not notice their hive by appearance but rather where it was.

This could be because appearances in nature tend to change, especially during the growing season when bare branches become leafier and weeds grow rapidly. Usually, a honey bee is considered to be short-sighted, but it is a common misinterpretation.

The eye of an insect possesses no focusing mechanisms, where short-sightedness is a derangement of the focusing ability, which can only occur in focusing arrangements. This does mean that the honey bee is not short-sighted in the way we use the term among ourselves as humans. It is instead called indistinct vision due to the lack of acuteness.

Bees have two eyes but do not use stereo vision to judge distance. They instead orient themselves by keeping track of the rate at which the landscape beneath them appears to be moving on either side of them.

The honeybee’s ability to see polarized light gives it a confident sense of direction. Using this, the bee can communicate to the other bees where a patch of flowers can be found. Instead of communicating in the same way as humans know, they do the famous bee dance.

The bee dance uses the angle between the sun’s current position and the destination to indicate in what direction a recruit has to fly.

As beekeepers know, the lifespan of a worker bee’s life is short and whatever she learns dies with her. But because of the overlap of a worker bee, some of the information is retained by the colony of bees inside the hive. Honey bees can live from fall to spring and retain the memories they visited in the previous season.

Honeybees also remember valuable water sources. In this way, the knowledge of the landscape’s features is maintained over time. Vision and memory are crucial to the success and survival of the honey bee colony.

How Do Bees Recognize Faces?

Recognizing faces is essential for how we as humans interact and is often thought to be an ability that requires the sophistication of the large human brain. But recently, new evidence has emerged that bees use visual processing mechanisms that are similar to humans’, enabling reliable face recognition.

The brain of a honeybee has a million neurons. This is very few, compared to the 100 billion neurons in the human brain. Research has reported that bees can recognize faces and do it in the same way humans do!

Bees use a technique called configural processing, piecing together the components of a face: eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. They then form a recognizable pattern based on the differences of these facial components.

Bees are famous for their pattern-recognizing abilities, which scientists believe evolved over the years to discriminate among flowers in the wild. Bees are social insects, and they can also tell apart their hive mates. It is only logical that bees will tell apart human faces if they can tell apart from one of themselves.

Bees And Bonding

Bees like the humans who take good care of them. Because it has been established that bees can detect and recognize human faces, it has been noticed that they can even build trust with their human caretakers!

Have you noticed that your bees tend to follow you around? Yes, this could be because they recognize you and are naturally curious creatures, but there is probably something about you that makes you attractive to them.

There are a few things to consider when you notice this behavior from your beloved stingers!

  • Even if you don’t smell it- your bees will!

Did you know that certain perfumes and scents can attract bees? Luckily, you will not be mistaken for a beehive, but the bees might think you smell sweet!

 If you wear a flowery scent, your bees might find you attractive and think that a flower full of pollen is near! You can take this as a compliment that your buzzing bees like your chosen perfume.

There is another thing when it comes to smell that might attract your little bees: Sweat. It may sound gross, but it is true! Bees find sweat to be sweet, and they will never appear aggressive when they get a fresh smell of your odor.

  • They like your outfit! Surprisingly, it’s not just your friends that will notice a new outfit on you; you have new friends now! Bees are attracted to specific patterns and colors that people wear, thinking it’s the color of a flower waiting to be visited.

If you have found that a bee cannot seem to leave you alone, it is why. You never have to be scared if a bee does this because once he realizes that you are not a gigantic flower, he will leave you alone and go back to its route.

  • Do not touch their stuff! While bees mostly do not want to bother you, they will do what they have to, to defend what is theirs. In this case, it is the hive and its queen.

If you decide to mess with their hive by either throwing objects or attempting to remove them, there are no words to describe the aggravation they will show towards you.

They will sting the perpetrator. You, as a beekeeper, would not want this! So, know that if you work with your bees calmly, they will project the same energy towards you.

As your bees get more familiar with you, they will tend to be much calmer when you regularly visit the hive. You will get to know your tiny flying insects and maybe even be able to dodge a few stingers in this way!

Conclusion

All this new information helps us understand how important bees are, but helps us understand that humans and bees aren’t so different after all! Bees have sophisticated face processing expertise, and it will continue to develop and evolve over the coming years.

Did you know that 1 out of 6 of the world’s plant species would not be able to exist without our honeybees? A single honey bee can pollinate tens of thousands of flowers in a day, and a colony can effectively pollinate millions of flowers a day.

So the next time you decide to visit your hive, be sure to care correctly for your bees and handle them gently and with care! We never know if facial recognition comes with plotting revenge on their beekeepers who continuously rob their honey!

Jaco Stander

My name is Jaco Stander. I’m from Cape Town, South Africa. I’m a registered beekeeper with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform & Rural Development in South Africa. Registration number WC808. I live on a small holding where I keep my 16 beehives. Taking care of bees is a very rewarding feeling, contributing to keep our bee colonies growing and thriving, and as a bonus, enjoying that sweet pure raw honey!

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