Bees have already done a host of great services for the human race – they pollinate flowers, cure diseases, and produce honey. Now scientists in Croatia have found another role for the intrepid insect. The country, which is set to join the European Union this July, contains thousands of unexploded landmines left over from the Balkan wars. Researchers at Zagreb University are working towards training honeybees to sniff out these underground weapons over a 750 square-kilometer area where the devices are believed to remain.
Nikola Kezic, a professor at Zagreb University, based his experiments on the fact that honeybees have an excellent sense of smell and can quickly identify the presence of TNT. Kezic leads a project named “Tiramisu” that is sponsored by the EU to detect landmines throughout the continent. By setting up feeding points with sugar solutions containing particles of TNT, he has been able to work with their natural behavior to offer the bees rewards for seeking out the explosive compound.
“It is not a problem for a bee to learn the smell of an explosive, which it can then search,” he said. “You can train a bee, but training their colony of thousands becomes a problem.”
Since the beginning of the Balkan war in 1991, over 2,500 people have died from explosions. Most of the 90,000 mines that were placed in the country were done so without maps or adhering to a logical pattern. In addition to being horrific obstacles for residents, the devices also present a major problem for de-miners and a fledgling tourist industry. Past experiments using rats and dogs to find landmines have difficult as their weight triggers and detonates the weapons. Once the experiment with the honeybees passes scientific scrutiny, they may be employed to ensure that a field is truly de-mined.
Images via Wikicommons users Yippie and Fir0002.