Thursday, November 30, 2006

Yeah Bees Can Sniff Bombs, But Can They Pollinate Them?

Reuters is reporting that scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico announced that they have successfully trained bees to sniff out and extend their proboscis (the tube they use to eat) when they detect explosives. The story says that once trained, the bees could be transported in hand-held detectors and used for bomb detection. Apparently, wasps were also trained but scientists decided to go with the bees. It doesn’t say why but we all know that bees work harder than wasps. I’ve heard of busy bees but never busy wasps.

With all this effort being put forward, I sure hope that bees have lengthy life spans. It would be a travesty to train a bee for this important and special job and then have it die shortly after being commissioned, drafted, conscripted or whatever they choose to call it. Of course the other concerns have to be getting stung and losing the bees when they fly away. That probably explains the hand-held detectors they’ll use to carry them. After all, if Shamu can attack its Sea World trainer, I’m sure that bees will be tempted to sting the military personnel assigned to them. Also, what does the military do if any of these bees go AWOL? Hopefully the TCPB (training cost per bee) isn’t too expensive.

I wonder if there will be special sensitivity training for handlers who work with bomb sniffing dogs or the military trained dolphins we’re always hearing about. After all, the bomb sniffing bee handlers have got to be pretty low on the bomb sniffing totem poll. When groups of dog handlers walk by the bee handlers, who are holding their special bees in their special boxes, I bet they snicker. Some will probably even make mock buzzing sounds to affirm their obvious higher K-9 handling status. Isn’t the social world we live in cruel? What recourse will the bee handlers have to spare their dignity? Certainly yelling something like, “fine then, no honey for you” will not help their cause. Yep, I think sensitivity training should be a prerequisite for anyone who works with a bomb-sniffing creature that is larger than an insect.

It will sure be intimidating going to the airport with all of the airport security walking around holding their bomb sniffing black and yellow pollinators in shoebox size ‘containment units.’ Speaking of pollen, I bet bomb makers around the world are busy planting colorful and sweet scented flowers to use to mask the smell of their explosives. With what I imagine is the very short attention span of bees and their limited intelligence, you’ve got to believe that anything bright and sweet smelling will throw them off.

Of course, there is a big, sweet upside to using bees as opposed to dogs for sniffing out bombs.
I’m not talking about the obvious things like animal size and cost. Just think of it in terms of production. Bees produce honey and dogs produce, well you know what. You probably scooped some up after your dog today and I doubt it smelled like honey. How far the plans go to develop the use of bees as everyday bomb detectors remains to be seen. One thing is certain though, after 18 months of bee training, the scientists in New Mexico will have plenty of honey to get them through the winter, and our tax dollars paid for it…

15 comments:

Odat said...

I, for one, don't want any bee with an extended proboscis sniffing out my luggage at the airport...(or do I?) Hmmmm.
Peace

Great pic of SNL...brought back memeories and laughs....

Peace

Josie said...

Michael, where do you find this stuff. You are a font of information.

I guess you're a terrorist up to some nasty business you'll just have to carry around a giant can of Raid.

Cheers,
Josie

Michael C said...

Odat: I hate promiscuous proboscis, don't you? ;-)
Glad you liked the SNL pic. I had to search a while to find just the right one.

Josie: I read lots and lots of news. I'd say I'm a news junkie, but I only watch the news so I can make fun of it ;-)
I had not even thought about the Raid angle!!

mist1 said...

After reading this, I don't think that we should be using the words "bee handler." It just doesn't seem very PC.

Afterall, I don't consider myself a manhandler...although, I like the way that sounds.

Violet said...

bees poo too, y'know. You just don't notice it because...well, there's a reason honey is so sweet.

ShadowFalcon said...

Oh no another bizzare idea involving animals, do you know they trained dolphins to find mines but when the actaully went to use the dolphins and released them the clever mammals swam away to freedom.

Dan said...

So we've figured out how to train dogs to sniff for bombs, dolphins to sniff for bombs, bees to sniff for bombs.

When the hell are we ourselves going to figure out how to sniff for bombs? Wouldn't that save LOADS of trouble? ;)

abbagirl74 said...

I agree with Dan. Just think of how many celebrities could get an instant "nose job" if they were in this line of work.

Michael C said...

mist1: It doesn't sound PC, does it. How about bee partner or bee cohort? Yeah, I guess manhandler and womanhandler wouldn't go over too well.

shadowfalcon: You know the dolphins were just biding their time until they were released. Then the military was left scratching their heads trying to figure out how they didn't see that coming!

Dan: that's a great point. I guess humans think they're too good for bomb sniffing...

abbagirl74: every single one of them!

Le Nightowl said...

What a bee-zarre story... :)
Marie

Michael C said...

le nightowl: you win! I can't believe that there isn't more 'buzz' surrounding the idea of using bees to sniff bombs ;-)

Le Nightowl said...

Now, Michael, tell me the truth, just between the two of us :)
... did you make the whole story up?

Michael C said...

le nightowl: Nope, it was based on a real story I read, really. See: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15938954/

Le Nightowl said...

Thanks for the link Michael!
I thought you might have got it from Reuter's blog "Oddly Enough"
http://blogs.reuters.com/category/themes/oddly-enough/
... pretty buzzing with beezarre stories too :)

Empress Bee said...

hey! watch who you call a bomb sniffer......

hi michael, home again, home again...

bee