Sniffer Bees

by Katy - Bee Missionary November 12, 2019

Sniffer Bees

Amazing research has been coming out lately about bees and their high-intensity sense of smell. In addition, they can easily be trained to recognize smells in a very short time.

The Telegraph reported that Croatian and French biologists were able to train bees to detect explosives and mines in the Balkans. Their olfactory sense allows bees to detect thousands of unexploded underground landmines and explosives.

Yves Le Conte is the director of the bee and environment unit at INRA in Avignon, France. He has stated that bees can detect TNT if they receive the proper training.

This 3:08-minute long video shows how honeybees can help save human lives by detecting landmines that were hidden in the Balkans in the 1990s.

Dr. Rebecca Nesbit works at Inscentinel, a company that trains bees. She has stated that bees are cheaper and easier to train than sniffer dogs and their scent-sensing capabilities are so heightened that they can detect an odor in parts per trillion. For instance, they can sniff-out a grain of salt in an Olympic swimming pool.

Do bees smell fear? Keep in mind, bees traditionally use their sense of smell to protect their hives. It is not so much the actual fear that bees smell as it is the pheromones, which are like hormones, that are released by a creature when that creature feels fearful. Bees know to interpret that scent as fear and they can emit scents of their own to ‘talk’ to each other about the smell they identify as fear, so the entire hive is quickly alerted.

If a human, cat, dog, squirrel or raccoon gets too close to a beehive, the pheromones of that creature are picked up as ‘different’ to that of the hive, and the watcher bees will alert the rest of the hive by emitting their own pheromones that danger might be near. It is a defensive move intended to put the hive on high alert, rather than a desire to attack the stranger. Yet. An attack will usually only take place if the intruder initiates any sort of attack on the colony.

This 3:47-minute long video shows how honeybees are being trained as scent-detecting crime-fighters.

Remember, bee talk is non-verbal and unfolds in two ways. The waggle dance and bee pheromones are the languages of bees. The species is considered to engage in one of the most advanced means of communicating out of all social insects.

The waggle dance is the popular and well-known way bees talk to each other. We blogged about the waggle dance, which is how foraging bees tell each other about the hottest new foraging grounds so they can all enjoy the nectar and pollen.

Pheromone “talk” is the complex language of scent that informs bees about many things. It is especially useful as an early warning system to let them know if danger is nearby. If a bee is under attack or in distress, she can release “attack pheromones” and these will alert other bees nearby, causing a swarm of her defensive sisters to fly in and protect her.

What are bee pheromones and how do bees use them to smell? Pheromones are chemical substances that are created by an animal’s exocrine glands. When they are triggered within that creature, it elicits a response from another animal of the same species depending on the physiological or behavioral signature associated within that species.

Bees have an intense sense of smell and are drawn to scents as much as they are to colors. Their antennae pick up odors, even while flying. They can discern the trace of a scent mid-flight, which helps them to identify flowers that are rich sources of pollen and nectar. They can spontaneously follow the scent to the flowers or herbs.

They love the scents of native plants and some aromatic herbs bees love are lavender, hyssop, chamomile, beebalm, sage, rosemary and thyme. They do not like the smells of cinnamon, peppermint, geranium and cucumber, to name a few.

Can a bee smell a human? Some people think bees can smell fear, because many people get scared when they see a bee, and then the bee seems drawn to come take a closer look. The bee is just scoping you out unless you are provoking the hive.

The queen bee sets the pheromone signature scent in a hive, but what about individual bees? An exciting new study by EarthSky indicates that the scent profiles of bees change at different times in their lives. Most bees in the hive don’t notice subtle differences in the scent of their hive-mates. but the hive’s alert watchers, the Guard Bees, are geared to ‘smell’ outsiders that don’t belong in the hive. Since foragers may pick up other scents while they are away from the hive, they can be treated differently by Guard Bees when they seek hive re-entry since they no longer smell like the younger bees who have never left the hive but still maintain the full integrity of the queen’s hive scent.

What do you think of bees being trained as sniffer-bees? You can share your thoughts over on our Facebook page.

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Katy - Bee Missionary
Katy - Bee Missionary

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