Honeybees Trained To Sniff Out Landmines In Croatia

Honeybee Polinating Flower

A team of Croatian researchers are training honeybees to sniff out unexploded mines that still pepper the Balkans.

Nikola Kezic, a professor in the Department of Agriculture at Zagreb University, has been exploring using bees to find landmines since 2007. Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, and other countries from former Yugoslavia still have around 250,000 buried mines that were left there during the wars of the early 90s. Since the end of the war, more than 300 people have been killed in Croatia alone by the explosives, including 66 de-miners.

Tracking down the mines can be extremely costly and dangerous. However, by training bees (which are able to detect odors from 4.5 kilometers away) to associate the smell of TNT with sugar, the researchers can create an effective way of identifying the locations of mines.

Kezic leads a multimillion-pound program sponsored by the EU, called Tiramisu, to detect landmines across the continent. His team has been working in a net tent filled with the insects and several feeding posts containing a sugar solution—some of which contain traces of TNT. The bees, which have already been trained to associate food with the smell of TNT, gather mainly at those feeding posts containing TNT. The movements of the bees are tracked from afar using thermal cameras. Bees have the advantage of being extremely small, so they don’t run the risk of setting off the explosives in the same way that trained mammals such as dogs or rats do.

The research is similar to experiments conducted by DARPA in the US, where bees were mounted with tiny radio tags so their location could be accurately tracked.

The research is ongoing, but once the team is confident in the bees’ landmine-seeking abilities, they will release the creatures in areas that have been de-mined to see whether the field has been successfully swept by humans.

Kezic told AP, “it has been scientifically proven that there are never zero mines on a de-mined field, and that’s where bees could come in.”

This story originally appeared on Wired UK.

Many Causes For Bee Disappearance – EU Bans Neonicotinoids

A recent Federal study blames a combination of factors for the mysterious and dramatic disappearance of U.S. honeybees.

Bee Perched On FlowerThe multiple causes make it harder to do something about what’s called colony collapse disorder, experts say. The disorder has caused as much as one-third of the nation’s bees to just disappear each winter since 2006.

Besides making honey, honeybees pollinate more than 90 flowering crops. Among them are a variety of fruits and vegetables: apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, citrus fruit and cranberries. About one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination.

 

Researchers said it was not clear whether a certain class of pesticides was a major cause of the colony collapse.

Environmental groups described the lapse as a missed opportunity to respond swiftly to a situation that has decimated the country’s bee population.

The European Union voted this week for a two-year ban on a class of pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, that has been associated with the bees’ collapse. Read more about other recent developments in European honeybee survival.

The report: http://www.usda.gov/documents/ReportHoneyBeeHealth.pdf

Calcium Secret To Honeybees’ Memory

honeybeeResearchers writing in the open access journal BMC Biology have shown that calcium acts as a switch between short- and long-term storage of learned information.

That’s good news. Now maybe we can give honeybees calcium supplements to remember where all the toxic areas are to avoid so they can start repopulating.

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