The idea was a crazy one: use bees to find unexploded landmines. This was precisely what Zagreb University professor Nikola Kezic set out to do. The crazy idea turned out to be an ingenious one. Since bees have an impeccable sense of smell, Kezic tried to train a group of bees to identify their source of food with the smell TNT.
By mixing a sugar with Trinitrotoluene (TNT), the bees are able to find active landmines that are still hidden. The test results have been excellent. Kezic is very satisfied with to results so far. The idea that bees can find landmines has potential to save many lives, not just in Croatia where it is being tested, but all of the world. The program is a smaller part of a multimillion euro effort called “Tiramisu” purposed for the detection and removal of land mines.
The test was carried out by placing bowls as feeding points around the trained colony. Some of the bowls had different smells, but the majority of the bees hovered around the points containing traces of TNT. It is unclear of the cost related to this, but as it is now, to clear this area with current de-mining techniques will cost about half of a billion euros, not including the estimated 450 million already spent since 1998.
Croatia is still littered with landmines from the Croatian War of Independence of the 1990’s with still around 90 000 unexploded mines in an area of 750 square kilometers. Over 500 people have died of landmines in this area since the wars. It is the EU’s goal to have this area clear of all landmines by 2019. The use of honey bees may speed this process up significantly and also lower costs of doing so.