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Bomb-Sniffing Bees

December 20, 2006

Bees could replace bomb-sniffing dogs for some high-risk missions.


The buzz on a new bomb squad. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

In the future, our nation’s ports, bridges, and airlines may be protected by highly trained…bees. Tim Haarmann and his colleagues at Los Alamos National Laboratory have taught bees to sniff out plastic explosives, TNT, and other bomb components. The bees signal a hit with their proboscis-extension reflex.

TIM HAARMANN (Los Alamos National Laboratory):
… which is nothing more than sticking out their tongue when they encounter sugar water. And you can train a bee to do this response when it smells certain odors.

The trained bees are then strapped into small cages, equipped with video cameras and image recognition software to spot the telltale tongues. Haarmann says robots might even carry the boxed bees into especially high-risk areas, eliminating the chance of losing an officer or a faithful canine.
I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.