Nose for dan­ger: Bees trained to de­tect un­ex­ploded mines

sci­ence: Suc­cess of tri­als as bees are trained to de­tect scent of ex­plo­sives which leads to find­ing mines in for­mer Yu­goslavia

The Courier & Advertiser (Perth and Perthshire Edition) - - NEWS - John glover

Trained bees have been suc­cess­fully used for the first time to find mines in a for­mer Yu­gosla­vian war­zone, a Scot­tish sci­en­tist has re­vealed.

The honey bees led mine clear­ance teams to un­ex­ploded ord­nance in Croatia af­ter they were trained to hone in on the smell of ex­plo­sives.

Dr Ross Gil­lan­der of St An­drews Univer­sity helped de­sign equip­ment which de­tects if bees are re­turn­ing to the hive with tiny traces of ex­plo­sives.

Once con­firmed, footage from drones was used to pin­point the spot at which the bees picked up the traces.

The bees could prove more ef­fec­tive than snif­fer dogs in some cir­cum­stances be­cause they can work for longer and are cheaper to use. A dog’s per­for­mance can also be ad­versely af­fected by its treat­ment.

The promis­ing early re­sults of the on­go­ing tri­als in Croatia hold out hope that more of the mil­lions of aban­doned mines around the world could be cleared up more quickly, spar­ing thou­sands of peo­ple from be­ing killed or in­jured.

The use of bees to de­tect ex­plo­sives is be­ing re­searched by aca­demics in Scot­land and Croatia.

Real-world tests started in Croatia in Novem­ber, funded by Nato Sci­ence for Peace and Se­cu­rity, and us­ing bees from lo­cal hives.

Dr Gil­lan­der con­firmed the bees had found mines and other ex­plo­sives lost dur­ing Croatia’s four-year strug­gle for in­de­pen­dence from Yu­goslavia which started in 1991.

The project bor­rows stan­dard Apis­mellis­era Car­nica honey­bees which are trained over two days by plac­ing sugar syrup on top of TNT.

“Ba­si­cally we teach them by a ver­sion of re­ward like you do with dogs,” said Dr Gil­lan­der.

“The bees fly out of their hive to go about their nor­mal day-to-day job of find­ing pollen but in­stead of find­ing pollen they find ex­plo­sives. It’s the sugar syrup which draws them out.

“The train­ing takes two days and is much faster and more ef­fi­cient than train­ing a dog. How­ever, af­ter three days the bees re­alise that they aren’t get­ting re­ward from the TNT and as a re­sult are dis­in­ter­ested in it and look for other things.

“Af­ter three days we have to re-train the honey­bees to de­tect the ex­plo­sives.”

Dr Gil­lan­der, a physi­cist, de­signed the equip­ment that tests the bees for ex­plo­sives when they re­turn to the hive.

The bees go through a can­vas-type ma­te­rial which is then ex­posed to light.

“A drop in light emis­sion (like a light dim­mer switch) con­firms the pres­ence of ex­plo­sives,” said Dr Gil­lan­der.

The bees fly out of their hive to go about their nor­mal dayto-day job of find­ing pollen, but in­stead of find­ing pollen they find ex­plo­sives

Left: The equip­ment used to test for traces of ex­plo­sives on the re­turn­ing bees. Above: Dr Ross Gil­lan­der of St An­drews Univer­sity helped de­sign the spe­cial equip­ment.

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