These wasps have incredible brains

La guêpe à papier a un tout petit cerveau. Pourtant, elle est capable d’apprendre. Et elle a une bonne mémoire. Elle arrive même à mettre en œuvre les concepts abstraits de ressemblance et de différence. © JJ Gouin, Adobe Stock

“Beasts of Science” is like a collection of short stories. Good stories that tell the living in all its freshness. But also in all its complexity. A parenthesis to marvel at the world’s treasures. For this new episode, we’re going to discover a not always welcome little beast: the paper wasp. You will also be interested
[EN VIDÉO] “Being with the bees” to work with nature “Being with the bees” is an hour and a half of wonder. An hour and a half to learn all about these wonderful pollinating insects. To learn to love them a little more. And work with nature to preserve the biodiversity that keeps us alive An hour and a half to start changing the world… © Jupiter Films The paper wasp. You know ? As its name suggests, it is a kind of wasp. Oh, he’s not the most aggressive of them all. On the other hand, its sting is known to be extremely painful. Some suffer for hours. Therefore, it is better not to wrap it, without, however, being tempted to dispose of it too quickly because the paper wasp plays a fundamental role in the environment. It feeds on the nectar of flowers. And this is how their pollination works. But this is not all. Because its larvae feed on insects harmful to crops, such as caterpillars, and then the paper wasp, despite its small brain, has amazing abilities. She knows how to learn and has an amazing memory. Thus, for example, it can distinguish the different individuals of its species. Just by observing their facial markings. And be careful with what the marks don’t know… The paper wasp also knows how to adapt its behavior according to the memory it has of past interactions. He might even rely on a familiar situation to get out of a situation that would be unfamiliar to him. And at the height of the cognitive delicacy of the paper wasp, it would be able to mark the difference – or establish the similarity – between different situations or between similar situations. It seems obvious to you, you know that it really isn’t like that for everyone. Primates, dolphins, parrots, corvids or even pigeons have access to this type of distinction. On the invertebrate side, only the European bee is in this case. At least, in the current state of knowledge of researchers. And now, will we have to count on the paper wasp, as the researchers established it? They first trained female paper wasps to distinguish between pairs of visual stimuli. Same or different stimuli. Pieces of colored paper or faces of other wasps. Stimuli to which they are accustomed to pay attention in their wild everyday life. A couple, only, associated with a harmless, but unpleasant electric shock. The researchers then exposed the same paper wasps to new pairs of stimuli. When the wasps managed to avoid the electric shock, their choice was judged “good”. And 80% of the wasps made the “correct” choice, more visual, but olfactory: the diffusion of chemical odors similar to those emitted by their nestmates. A solid proof, for researchers, that they are able to form abstract concepts. Further proof that the paper wasp isn’t so stupid. And isn’t that brain size, which in this case contains less than a million neurons, compared to over 80 billion in humans, a limiting factor for reading intelligence?
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