I’m Going to Recommend You Not Swat At That TNT-Coated Bee

Bees are crazy interesting creatures.

For example, did you know a honey bee can fly for up to six miles and as fast as 15 miles per hour.  And to make one pound of honey, a bee would have to fly around 90,000 miles, which comes out to about 3 times around the globe, and, which might explain why the average honey bee will actually make only one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.

Also, they see all colors except for red. I wonder what the bee equivalent of the Ishihara test is.

Can you see the red number in this flower?

Another thing about bees is that they can be trained to find bombs. No, really. They’re like that guy in the The Hurt Locker. Only, with 6 legs, 2 compound eyes made up of thousands of tiny lenses (one on each side of the head), 3 simple eyes on the top of the head, 2 pairs of wings, a nectar pouch, and a stomach.

Some scientist is taking advantage of honey bees’ ridiculously acute sense of smell and training them to detect the scent of explosives. In particular, the scent of TNT, according to the Associated Press.

“Our basic conclusion is that the bees can clearly detect this target, and we are very satisfied,” said Nikola Kezic, an expert on the behavior of honeybees who leads a part of a larger multimillion-euro program, called “Tiramisu,” sponsored by the EU to detect land mines on the continent.

Mmmm, Tiramisu. That does sound yummy.

bee thug

(And, why exactly does this project need a super-secret code name? Who’s gonna make off with a swarm of specially trained, black op bees?Actually…..I see your point. But if I were giving out super-secret code names, I would go with something James Bond-ish, like “You Only Live 40-50 Days,” or “Honeycombs Are Forever,” or “License to Sting.” What about, “Octo-Buzzy?”)

Anywho. According to the article:

Several feeding points were set up on the ground around the tent, but only a few have TNT particles in them. The method of training the bees by authenticating the scent of explosives with the food they eat appears to work: bees gather mainly at the pots containing a sugar solution mixed with TNT, and not the ones that have a different smell.

Kezic said the feeding points containing the TNT traces offer “a sugar solution as a reward, so they can find the food in the middle.”

“It is not a problem for a bee to learn the smell of an explosive, which it can then search,” Kezic said. “You can train a bee, but training their colony of thousands becomes a problem.”

Yikes, I can totally imagine. Just training one Petunia to not claw the furniture is difficult enough. I can’t imagine a colony of thousands.

bee army
I’m pretty sure this is exactly what a bee army looks like.

So, just where would one find lots of undetonated landmines with which to test this TNT/Tiramisu theory? Why, Poe’s next vacation destination, of course, Croatia!

Croatian officials estimate that since the beginning of the Balkan wars in 1991, about 2,500 people have died from land mine explosions. During the four-year war, around 90,000 land mines were placed across the entire country, mostly at random and without any plan or existing maps…

About 750 square kilometers (466 square miles) are still suspected to be filled with mines from the Balkan wars in the 1990s.

Well, that’s just great.  But surely by the time we get there in early July, this whole bomb-sniffing-bee thing will be up and running and we’ll have no worries, right?

It may be a while before the honeybees hit real minefields, Kezic said. First, they will conduct controlled tests, with real mines but which are marked…

Even after the de-miners have done their job in an area, some land mines are missed and remain in the soil, and they are most often the cause of deadly explosions. Once the experiment with bees proves scientifically reliable, the idea is to use them in the areas that have already been de-mined, where their movement would be followed with heat-seeking cameras, Kezic said.

“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.”

You’re killing me, Kezic. Why so cautious? There are lives to be saved here. Science to be proven. Don’t you want to hurry up and get a patent on that Kezic Effect, and put that Pavlov guy with his silly dogs out of the behavioral conditioning business?

bee with guns
Ready to rumble in the jungle.

Maybe in the meantime, you could just go ahead and train a few of these bees on how to detect potential waterborne parasites real quick and truly make them useful? We’ll be there in about a month.