Bomb-Sniffing Bees: How Are They Being Trained To Detect Land Mines in Croatia?

By iScienceTimes Staff on May 20, 2013 1:43 PM EDT

Bee
Nikola Kezic, a scientist in Croatia, has trained bees to sniff out landmines. Croatia is still plagued with hidden landmines planted during the Balkan wars in the 1990s. (Photo: Reuters)

A Croatian scientist is training honey bees to sniff out the former Yugoslavia's many live minefields.

Nikola Kezic, a professor in the Department of Agriculture at Zagreb University, has come up with a way to train bees to detect land mines by getting them hooked on the smell of TNT. Kezic fills several feeding posts in a contained area with a solution of sugar and trace amounts of TNT, while filling other feeding posts with just food -- but not sugar or TNT. The bees, who like the sugar, eventually start eating from the feeding posts with the sugar and TNT solution. This leads them to associate TNT with sugar, and they begin to seek out the smell of TNT.

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Kezic and his team plan to then track the hooked honey bees using thermal cameras. When the bees are released into de-mined fields -- many of which still contain land mines -- they will head for areas where live land mines are still embedded. Bees are ideally suited for this sort of task: they can detect odors from almost three miles away, and unlike other animals that de-mining teams sometimes use, like dogs or rats, they don't risk setting off the explosives. They just tell Kezic and his team where the mines are.

"Our basic conclusion is that the bees can clearly detect this target, and we are very satisfied," said Kezic.

According to Kezic, the bees probably can't detect every mine, but are a useful tool in what has been a long and deadly battle against minefields.

"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," he said. "It has been scientifically proven that there are never zero mines on a de-mined field, and that's where bees could come in."

In Croatia, about 466 square miles are still believed to contain mines left over from the Balkan wars in the 1990s. According to Croatian officials, around 2,500 people have died from land mine explosions since the beginning of the war in 1991. During the war, about 90,000 land mines were planted around Croatia, mostly at random.

Dijana Plestina, the head of the Croatian government's de-mining bureau, said that 316 people have died from landmines since the end of the war.

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