Croatians (and Americans) Training Honeybees to Sniff Out Landmines

| Mon May 20, 2013 1:12 PM EDT

Bees are basically the most important insect ever. Honeybees make possible roughly a third of everything we eat, and the bugs pollinate about $14 billion worth of crops and seeds in the United States each year.

Here's yet another reason for mankind to feel forever indebted to the bees: They may one day be instrumental in detecting unexploded landmines. And Croatians are leading the charge in this field of research. Here's the rundown from Wired UK:

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 which 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 odours from 4.5 kilometres away — to associate the smell of TNT with sugar can create an affective way of identifying the locations of mines...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."

As wild as this idea sounds, it's hardly unprecedented. In fact, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy have been working on this sort of research for years. The Defense Advanced Research Laboratory (DARPA) has been studying honeybees since 1999. Check out some of this Pentagon press material released in 2004:

bees landmines department of defense
honey bees land mines detection sniff out
Via the US Department of Defense

And here's a 2008 video from the Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory on how American scientists train honeybees to detect other types of explosive devices: