Honeybees Trained to Seek Hidden, Unexploded Landmines in Croatia, Saving Lives

First Posted: May 20, 2013 11:07 AM EDT

When you think of animals sniffing out dangerous or illegal substances, you usually think of dogs. Now, though, scientists are using a completely different creature in order to seek out hidden, unexploded landmines: They're using honeybees.

Honeybees, while better known for making the sweet material often found in grocery stores, also have a highly attuned sense of smell. This sense could potentially allow the insects to seek out landmines in Croatia, a country that's been plagued by landmines, according to Red Orbit.

Training these bees to actually do what scientists want, though, is another matter. In order to program the honeybees to seek out landmines, researchers mixed their food with traces of trinitrotoluene (TNT). This caused the bees to make the connection that the smell of TNT was associated with food. In order to confirm that their training had worked, the scientists then placed regular food mixtures in a tent with a TNT food mixture. The bees sought out the food mixed with TNT, which showed that the training had, in fact, worked.

"It is not a problem for a bee to learn the smell of an explosive, which it can then search," said Nikola Kezic, one of the researchers, in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. "You can train a bee, but training their colony of thousands becomes a problem."

It's estimated that 460 square miles are still filled with mines in Croatia--leftovers from Croatia's war in the 1990s. Yet these bees present a possibility to help remedy that issue. While dogs and rats can similarly be trained, they can set off blasts in minefields due to their weight. Honeybees, in contrast, wouldn't set off the mines, according to

"We are not saying that we will discover all the mines on a minefield, but the fact is that it should be checked if a minefield is really de-mined," said Kezic. "It has been scientifically proven that there are never zero mines on a de-mined field, and that's where the bees could come in."

The researchers hope to continue their experiments with the bees and then use them once they prove to be scientifically reliable. The findings could potentially revolutionize the way officials seek out hidden mines, and could mean more peace of mind for those that live in these dangerous areas.

©2017 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission. The window to the world of science news.

Join the Conversation

Real Time Analytics