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1.04.2013

Bees as Dangerous Substance Detectors

Getty Images of Bees in Cassettes



Domestic honeybees, Apis mellifera, have olfactory senses capable of detecting
specific volatile organic compounds (VOC) in air at levels as low as parts per billion
(ppb). This ability can be harnessed as a biological sensor to detect VOC’s of particular interest, as has traditionally been done with specially-trained dogs. Unlike
dogs, however, the honeybee can be trained to respond to a particular scent
within hours, is inexpensive to reproduce and maintain, and may be harnessed to
operate autonomously.
Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) began working with
domestic honeybees in 2006 to detect explosive materials and narcotics. The
honeybees, harnessed in a cassette, are trained to extend their proboscis in the
presence of the VOC of interest; this physical response is then detected by electronics monitoring the “bee cassette,” and the operator is alerted to presence of
the material. "