Unique among insects, some paper wasp species recognize conspecific facial patterns during social communication. To evaluate whether specialized brain structures are involved in this task, we measured brain and brain component size in four different paper wasp species, two of which show facial pattern recognition. These behavioral abilities were not reflected by an increase in brain size or an increase in the size of the primary visual centers (medulla, lobula). Instead, wasps showing face recognition abilities had smaller olfactory centers (antennal lobes). Although no single brain compartment explains the wasps’ specialized visual abilities, multi-factorial analysis of the different brain components, particularly the antennal lobe and the mushroom body sub-compartments, clearly separates those species that show facial pattern recognition from those that do not. Thus, there appears to be some neural specialization for visual communication in Polistes. However, the apparent lack of optic lobe specialization suggests that the visual processing capabilities of paper wasps might be preadapted for pattern discrimination and the ability to discriminate facial markings could require relatively small changes in their neuronal substrate.

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