One of my ambitions is to keep honey bees. There are many reasons for this strange desire; firstly I love honey, and secondly they form an essential part of the natural world by pollinating a wide variety of plants, and finally they are amazing creatures with complex communication and construction skills.
So when I saw an article in today’s Telegraph about “Sniffer honey bees trained to detect bombs” I was fascinated. The concept is really simple and straight forward, bees are highly sensitive to scent trails using them as they do to find food sources. Therefore by using positive reinforcement to associate the scent of chemicals used in bomb making with a sugar treat makes the bee rapidly respond to any exposure to those chemicals.
It is possible to train a bee very rapidly, with a number of exposures over the course of a few hours being enough to invoke a response to the chemical contaminate. This is obviously far faster than the in depth training over several months required to train a sniffer dog. I don’t think the bee will replace the dog in all cases, but it does provide a rapid response solution with a high degree of reliability. Who’d have thought bees would make us safer!