Is it Cruel to Use Bees as Digital Sensors?

The use of honey bees as explosives detection specialists has become a reality. This article provides an overview of collecting, qualifying, training, and transforming these pollen collectors into experts in explosive detection. The journey begins with collecting honey bees from their hives using a specially designed handheld device. The bees are then safely transferred to the lab, where they are chilled to slow down their movements for handling purposes. Once cooled, the bees are placed into their harnesses and left for 30 minutes to get used to their new environment.

The bees are qualified through the Proboscis Extension Reflex (PER) test, which involves presenting the bees with sugar water on the tip of a swab. Bees that can PER make it to the training round. Training honey bees is based on the same principle as training a sniffer dog. Honey bees do not salivate like dogs but have a tongue or proboscis, which they use exclusively for eating. In addition, the antennae of honey bees are vapor sensors with sensitivity thresholds of parts in trillion, similar to the sense of smell of a dog.

During training, the bees are given a 6-second exposure to an explosive vapor and rewarded with sugar water during the last 3 seconds. After four training rounds, the bees that voluntarily extend their proboscis after receiving the explosive scent are ready for fieldwork. The bees’ response can be monitored using a camera or an infrared LED in front of each bee.

The use of honey bees for explosive detection has certain advantages over dogs. Honey bees can be trained in a few hours, while it takes months to train a sniffer dog. Additionally, the maintenance cost of honey bees is lower than that of dogs. Certain applications, such as detecting landmines, may be better suited to honey bees, as a dog’s weight could trigger a landmine. Using honey bees as explosives detection specialists is an innovative and promising development.

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