Between 80 million and 120 million land mines are buried around the world, especially in Angola, Cambodia, and now Kosovo. As the problem worsens, the need for detection systems becomes more urgent. Now, a team of scientists from the University of Montana and Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque is training honey bees to do the job.
The work hinges on the ability of the bees to pick up pollen and other airborne chemicals on their bodies. Minute amounts of TNT, the explosive used in land mines, often linger in the air around the weapons. TNT may also be absorbed from the soil into the pollen of flowering plants. Either way, traces of the chemical could be picked up by the bees as they forage for food. Monitoring TNT levels in the beehives, say researchers, might be a way to detect nearby land mines.
To test their idea, the researchers intend to tag 50 bees with tiny devices that track the insects' movements. A reader in the hive will scan each bee's tag every time it enters or leaves the hive. Other instruments will directly measure the air in the hive for explosives. Taken together, the data might be able to supply researchers with a road map to nearby land mines.