Honeybees (Apis mellifera) have remarkable visual discrimination abilities that extend beyond simple colours, shapes or patterns. In spite of their small brains, they can discriminate landscape scenes, types of flowers (go figure!), human faces and have some capacity to distinguish on the basis of artistic style: Impressionist paintings by Monet and Cubist paintings by Picasso.
A new study by Wen Wu, Antonio M. Moreno, Jason M. Tangen, and Judith Reinhard of the Queensland Brain Institute, published in Journal of Comparative Physiology, shows that honeybees learned to simultaneously discriminate between five different Monet and Picasso paintings, and that they do not rely on luminance, colour, or spatial frequency information for discrimination. When presented with novel paintings of the same style, the bees even demonstrated some ability to generalize.
This 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 categorize the visual characteristics of complex images.