Bees give insight into visual memory

A collaboration with researchers at The University of Queensland’s School of Psychology and the Federal University of Sao Carlos, Brazil has highlighted the remarkable visual memory of honeybees.

The study, published in the Journal of Comparative Physiology A, found honeybees had remarkable visual learning and discrimination abilities that extended beyond simple colours, shapes or patterns.

Dr Judith Reinhard said honeybees could distinguish landscape scenes, types of flowers, and even human faces.

“This suggests that in spite of their small brain, honeybees have a highly developed capacity for processing complex visual information, comparable in many respects to vertebrates,” she said.

Dr Reinhard and her team investigated whether this capacity extended to complex images that humans distinguish on the basis of artistic style, including Impressionist paintings by Monet and Cubist paintings by Picasso.

“We were able to show that honeybees learned to simultaneously discriminate between five different Monet and Picasso paintings, and that they did not rely on luminance, colour, or spatial frequency information,” she said.

“Our study suggests that discrimination of artistic styles is not a higher cognitive function that is unique to humans, but simply due to the capacity of animals – from insects to humans – to extract and categorise the visual characteristics of complex images,” Dr Reinhard said.