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‘Sniffer BEES’ have spotted explosives in former Yugoslavian warzone

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

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

The bees could prove more effective than sniffer dogs in some circumstances because they can work for longer and are cheaper to use, experts say.

 

Trained bees have been successfully used for the first time to find mines in a former Yugoslavian warzone, a scientist has revealed. Pictured is a mine of the type found by the bees

Attempts to rear bees that can hunt explosives have been ongoing since 2014.

However, this is the first time the bees have been successful in detecting landmines.  

Dr Ross Gillander a physicist from 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 promising early results of the ongoing trials in Croatia suggest more of the millions of abandoned mines around the world could be cleared up faster, potentially sparing thousands of lives.

Real-world tests using bees from local hives started in Croatia in November last year and were funded by NATO Science for Peace and Security.

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 used 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, Dr Gillander said. 

‘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’, he said. 

‘After three days we have to re-train the honeybees to detect the explosives.’

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

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

The bees could prove more effective than sniffer dogs in some circumstances because they can work for longer and are cheaper to use, experts say. Pictured is part of the explosion detection kit

The bees could prove more effective than sniffer dogs in some circumstances because they can work for longer and are cheaper to use, experts say. Pictured is part of the explosion detection kit

HOW CAN BEES BE TRAINED TO FIND EXPLOSIVES?

Trained ‘sniffer bees’ have been used in mines in Croatia, a formed Yugoslavia warzone. 

The bees are taught in a similar way to sniffer dogs, according to researchers from St Andrews University.

The bees are sent out to their hive to go about their normal day job of finding pollen.

Instead of finding pollen, howeber, they find explosives that have been covered with sugar syrup on top.

They then become attracted to the smell of explosives.

However, according to experts, beeds realise they are not getting any reward from the TNT after around three days.

After this, they become disinterested in it and start looking for other things.

They then have to be re-trained.

 Researchers designed equipment that tests bees for explosives when they return to the hive.

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

 A drop in light emission confirms the presence of explosives on their body. 

Once explosives are confirmed, the team goes back to records from a drone which accompanies the bees on their expeditions, hovering a couple of metres above. 

The behaviour of the bees recorded by the drone indicates the precise moment they discovered explosive traces, pinpointing the buried mines.

Unlike honeybees, dogs can only work for 15 minutes at a time.   

Dogs, which are also more expensive to train, see it as a ‘game’ and quickly get bored.

Bees are not affected by the chemical compounds found in explosives and can also get to areas that dogs cannot reach.

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

The bees go through a special 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 types of mines the bees are being trained to detect are Yugoslavian PMA-2 and PMA-3 mines, and some Russian/Soviet mines (pictured, although experts do not know what type of mine this is)

The types of mines the bees are being trained to detect are Yugoslavian PMA-2 and PMA-3 mines, and some Russian/Soviet mines (pictured, although experts do not know what type of mine this is)

Once explosives are confirmed, the team go back to records from a drone which accompanies the bees on their expeditions, hovering a couple of metres above. Pictured is part of the explosion detection kit

Once explosives are confirmed, the team go back to records from a drone which accompanies the bees on their expeditions, hovering a couple of metres above. Pictured is part of the explosion detection kit

Once explosives are confirmed, the team goes back to records from a drone which accompanies the bees on their expeditions, hovering a couple of metres above. 

The behaviour of the bees recorded by the drone indicates the precise moment they discovered explosive traces, pinpointing the buried mines.

The types of mines the bees are being trained to detect are Yugoslavian PMA-2 and PMA-3 mines, and some Russian/Soviet mines.

The bees do have drawbacks, however. 

Rain and darkness will normally deter the bees from going out on their life-saving missions.

Precise details of the tests are being kept under wraps for now but Dr Gillander said the use of bees looked ‘promising’.

The academic revealed there had so far been just one casualty from the testing – PhD student James Glackin, who was strung three times while driving 6,000 bees to the test site.

There are an estimated 110 million land mines lost across the world which kill or injure between 15,000 to 20,000 people annually.

WHAT IS THE AFRICANISED OR ‘KILLER’ BEE?

Though European honey bees rarely attack people, the same is not true elsewhere.

Africanised honey bees - also known as killer bees - are extremely aggressive (file photo)

Africanised honey bees – also known as killer bees – are extremely aggressive (file photo)

In the US, Africanised honey bees – also known as killer bees – have been spreading north from Mexico since the 1970s.

The Africanised bee is a hybrid strain known for its aggression that was the result of experimental breeding carried out in Brazil in the 1950s.

The breeding was designed to produce a new strain of bee that was better adapted to the Tropics compared to the common European strains, like the Italian honey bee.

Unfortunately, combining the genes of Tanzanian and European insects produced a bee that, while productive, could be extremely defensive and aggressive.

As many as 23 colonies escaped from the facility in Brazil, and the insects have flooded South and Central America in the decades since.

More recently, killer bees have been spotted in parts of the US, with the aggressive critters found as far north as southern California. 

Honey bees are considered to be potentially dangerous across much of the Tropics.

Even elephants have a wary respect for these tiny insects.

In 2007, Oxford University scientists found that recordings of bees buzzing were enough to send the huge animals fleeing.



Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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