I rerun some of my older posts on Sundays as a way to highlight stories that you may have missed. Just think of it as 'thought recycling' and a day off, or that I am incredibly, incredibly lazy.
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…