Sandia, University Of Montana Researchers Try Training Bees To Find Buried Landmines

roots, stems, and flowers, and even incorporate them into their pollens."

If plants that readily accumulated the TNT could be identified, a suspected minefield could be seeded with those plants (by air) to maximize the bees' chances of finding the mines.

Inside the greenhouse a small colony of bumblebees has been established to measure how efficiently the bees carry TNT-tainted pollen and soil back to the hive.

"The greenhouse, plant uptake experiments, and control hives are designed to increase our chances of success when we begin testing the bees in the landmine field," says Sandia explosives chemist Phil Rodacy. "We'll compare the results we get in the controlled environments with the results we get in the field to see how well the bees are doing."

Tracking Bees' Behaviors

Later this spring Bromenshenk and a team of colleagues and students plan to come to work at Sandia. New colonies of honeybees will be introduced at the test minefield.

The Montana team will use highly instrumented "honeybee condos," which automatically count the number of times bees fly in and out of the hive, to track the bees' flight activity. Bromenshenk's team has shown that subtle changes in flight activity and other bee behaviors can signal that the bees are being exposed to environmental contaminants.

Pollen, dust, air, and other samples collected by the bees and brought to the hive will be analyzed for trace amounts of explosives. Sandia will examine the samples using highly sensitive chemical analysis tools to determine whether the bees can reliably indicate the presence of landmines in an area over time.

One goal of ongoing tests at Montana is to determine which explosives bees can smell and then train them to seek those chemicals. If bees can be trained to associate the odor of explosives (such as TNT) with food (sugar syrup, for instance), says Bromenshenk, the bees may spend more time near plants and surface soils contaminated with TNT, incre

Contact: John German
DOE/Sandia National Laboratories

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