START A PETITION 25,136,189 members: the world's largest community for good
START A PETITION
x
2,512,329 people care about Environment & Wildlife

‘Sniffer Bees’ Hunt for Landmines in Croatia

‘Sniffer Bees’ Hunt for Landmines in Croatia

You’ve heard of sniffer dogs, but what about sniffer bees?

It might sound a bit far-fetched, but Croatian scientists have been trying to put the amazing senses of honeybees to a new use: finding potentially fatal landmines.

It’s estimated that about 750 square kilometers (466 square miles) of Croatian land may still harbor active landmines, remnants of the Balklan wars in the 1990s.

As of the start of April 2013, an estimated 509 people have been killed and 1,466 more have been injured by landmines in 1,352 separate incidents in Croatia. This includes the deaths of 66 people who had been tasked with finding and disarming the landmines.

This gives some indication of how dangerous de-mining is and the need to improve current detection and disarmament methods.

Fortunately, this is where the bees might have an edge.

Bees have an almost unparalleled set of olfactory senses, among them an acute sense of smell.

A team of researchers headed by Nikola Kezic, a bee behavioral expert, wondered if bees could be trained to identify the scent of TNT and, when let loose on a suspect area, find landmines.

This isn’t a new form of research, though. In the 1990s, American researchers at Defense Advanced Research Laboratory (DARPA) trained bees to swarm around where they detected what is known as 2,4-dinitrotoluene, a chemical residue left by several different types of bombs.

The difference here is that TNT is much harder to detect because it evaporates quicker than other chemical traces and, as such, wasn’t part of the research.

However, Kezic believed honeybees, used for their general good temperament, might be capable and, in 2007, set about testing his theory as part of his involvement in the multimillion-euro program called Tiramisu.

The bees were exposed to scents of chemicals found in explosives and then immediately after were given a whiff of a sugar water solution that closely mirrors their natural food. Bees extend their proboscis whenever excited by the smell of food, something that would be used as an indicator of success.

After just a few exposures, the bees would learn to predict the more appealing food that was to come whenever they detected the hint of explosives and would extend their proboscis in anticipation.

This behavior was further confirmed in controlled field tests that saw Kezic and his team at the Department of Agriculture at Zagreb University set up large tents in the university grounds.

The tents contained several feeding points, only a few of which contained TNT particles as well as sugar water solution incentives.

When the bees were let loose in these controlled environments the sense training appeared to work, and the bees gathered mainly at the posts laced with TNT molecules.

“Our basic conclusion is that the bees can clearly detect this target, and we are very satisfied,” Kezic is quoted as saying. “It is not a problem for a bee to learn the smell of an explosive, which it can then search.”

However, Kezic has sounded a note of caution that there’s still a lot of work to be done. “You can train a bee, but training their colony of thousands becomes a problem.”

As such, it may take a while before Kezic is ready to take his swarms out to hunt for landmines in the field. Still, he is ready to advance the research to testing the bees with real, albeit marked, landmines.

One problem with the swarms beyond the labor intensive process of training them will be effectively tracking them once they are in the field, but it looks as though there may be several possible solutions to this problem.

Research teams in previous studies fitted the bees with tiny radio transmitters for easier tracking. Keizic has also floated the idea of tracking the swarms using thermal imaging.

While it is unlikely that the bees would ever be used to completely replace human de-miners, they may be especially suited for checking areas that have already been cleared to ensure de-mining teams haven’t missed any landmines.

In this way, local governments could be much more confident when declaring areas “mine free.”

Read more: , , , , , , ,

Image credit: Thinkstock.

have you shared this story yet?

some of the best people we know are doing it

55 comments

+ add your own
8:13AM PDT on Oct 6, 2013

Quanta K. the advantage of bees is they don't set off the mines, and they are cheap enough that something might actually be done. But your sentiment is well regarded.

4:58AM PDT on Jun 29, 2013

thanks for sharing

6:39PM PDT on Jun 18, 2013

Who put the mines there? Get them to clean it up.

7:13AM PDT on May 27, 2013

Mmm....

3:19AM PDT on May 27, 2013

interesting

10:45PM PDT on May 26, 2013

how about we use a machine like the anti-mine vehicle (which maybe remote controlled) to clean up our messes instead of wild animals? saw one on top gear!

1:03PM PDT on May 24, 2013

interesting,
thanks for sharing

6:42AM PDT on May 24, 2013

If it works very good but do look after them.

12:15AM PDT on May 24, 2013

Unconvincing. (1) Do bees behave differently after having been exposed to these chemicals? What does it do to their receptors over time?(2) Once they are released in swarms, how can their behavior respond only or mainly to these chemicals when they certainly will be affecting each other and communicating the way they have evolved to do? (3) Lastly, once the chemical or landmine has been detected, how do you remove the bees without disrupting (further) what their natural flight courses are supposed to be?

9:43PM PDT on May 23, 2013

ty

add your comment



Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

Care2 - Be Extraordinary - Start a Care2 Petition
ads keep care2 free
CONTACT THE EDITORS

Recent Comments from Causes

We live in an area choked with very large wind turbines. Hundreds of them and more to come. I wish MIT…

Would the headline to this article be as interesting if it read "half-clothed men get voters to the …

meet our writers

Steve Williams Steve Williams is a passionate supporter of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) rights, human... more
ads keep care2 free



Select names from your address book   |   Help
   

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.