Honey Bees Being Trained to Find Landmines

Posted May 30, 2007 by Bob Ewing

Croatia is developing new technique to find unexploded land mines
There has been considerable speculation and research on the disappearance of honey bees in North America and elsewhere. In Croatia they are not troubled by Colony Collapse Disorder but have found an interesting and perhaps lifesaving use for the honey bee.
The bees are being employed, hopefully, to detect that unexploded land mines that dot the Croatian landscape.
"We started this because our citizens are exposed to serious risks with mines," explains Professor Nikola Kezic, as honey bees buzz around his head. "Luckily we also have a long tradition of keeping bees and making honey. Our solution makes use of what we have."
The landmines problem in Croatia, like Bosnia-Hercegovina and the other countries of the former Yugoslavia is a legacy from the wars of the 1990s. Over 380 sq miles or 1,000 sq kilometers of the Croatian countryside could be highly dangerous territory due to the undiscovered and unexploded landmines there. There are approximately 250,000 mines still buried, and more than 100 people have been killed by them in Croatia since 1998.
Mine removal is slow and dangerous work and it is possible that not all the mines will be uncovered. To solve this problem and reduce the risk, Prof Kezic’s is conducting experiments to see if honey bees to find any explosives that might have been missed by the de-mining teams.
The bee training takes place in a large tent which has been pitched at the Faculty of Agriculture. In the tent, there is a hive of bees located at one end, and several feeding points for the bees are set up around the tent. Not all the feeding points contain food and the soil near them contains explosive chemicals.
The research relies on the honey bees’ sense of smell and the concept that the bees will associate the smell of explosives with a food source. The training only takes three or four days.
"This year our work is to increase the bees' sensitivity to the smell of TNT," says Prof Kezic.
He warns that it will take time before they are sure the system is reliable enough to use properly. As soon as the bee sniffing techniques proves its reliability, a test will be conducted on areas that have already been de-mined.
Once the technique has been shown to be reliable, the idea is to use the bees on areas that have already been de-mined. A special heat-sensitive camera will follow the bees’ movements and it is anticipated that the bees will.
The colony of specially trained bees will be released in the de-mined area, and followed with the bees will be expected to settle on areas of ground that smell of explosives. If they land on an area where no landmine was discovered earlier, the de-mining team will investigate to make sure they have not missed one.
Should this work it will provide and inexpensive method de-mining teams all over the Balkans can use.