Bees Find Land Mines

Bees can be trained to sniff out TNT.

Mirjana Filipovic is still haunted by the land mine blast that killed her boyfriend and blew off her left leg while on a fishing trip nearly a decade ago. It happened in a field that was supposedly de-mined. Now, unlikely heroes may be coming to the rescue to prevent similar tragedies: sugar-craving honeybees.

In Croatia[1], scientists are working on a new way to detect land mines without risking lives. Honeybees, the scientists say, have an incredible sense of smell, and with the right amount of prodding can be trained to sniff out TNT, the most common explosive used in land mines. A common technique in animal behavior training, the bees are taught to associate the smell of TNT with food.

Once that association is firm, the bees can be turned loose in search of land mines. Several feeding points were set up on the ground around the tent, but only a few had TNT particles in them. The method of training the bees by authenticating the scent of explosives with the food they eat appears to work: bees gather mainly at the pots containing a sugar solution mixed with TNT, and not the ones that have a different smell.

From 1999 to 2008 73,576 people reportedly died in hidden land mines or unexploded munitions. Of these, around 18,000 were confirmed deaths – 71% of victims were civilians and 32% were children. Aside from their destructive potential, land mines are also a psychological and social plight.

Mine decommissioning teams already use dogs and rats to hunt down mines. But, some anti-personnel mines are so sensitive that the weight of a pup can set them off. The bees’ training is still underway, but if and when they’re ready the Croatian-trained bees will be able to flit from mine to mine without setting them off. Because of how they can smell explosives with appendages, analysts in nations like Croatia have gone through years improving how honey bees are utilized as landmine locators.

But there is a problem. While the bees may gather in areas defiled by mines, it is tough for people to monitor where they are because pursuing the honey bees across the minefield is not a good idea. Teams from Bosnia and Herzegovina[2], and Croatia have started using robots to screen honey bees while they work. An automated vehicle flies around, catching pictures of the bug, which PCs subsequently examine to uncover potential mines covered up in the ground.

Landmine Info

There are around 80,000 landmines in Bosnia and
Herzegovina and approximately 30,000 in Croatia.

We wanted to try to exclude humans from potential danger… and try to use drones. It’s very difficult for human observers to find these flying bees in this video footage let alone computer vision systems. There were moments when I thought that we are outright crazy for trying to do that but I am pleasantly surprised with the results that we obtained.

Vladimir Risojević – from the University of Banja Luka in Bosnia and Herzegovina

At the moment, the system works by using drones programmed to fly along a predetermined route, crisscrossing the minefield while capturing footage of the bees as they buzz around. Analysis of the footage later reveals where the bees clustered.

  1. Croatia, officially the Republic of Croatia is a country at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe. Its coast lies entirely on the Adriatic Sea. It borders Slovenia to the northwest, Hungary to the northeast, Serbia to the east, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro to the southeast, and shares a maritime border with Italy to the west and southwest. Its capital and largest city, Zagreb, forms one of the country’s primary subdivisions, with twenty counties. The country spans 56,594 square kilometers (21,851 square miles), and has a population of nearly 3.9 million. [Back]
  2. Bosnia and Herzegovina sometimes called Bosnia–Herzegovina and often known informally as Bosnia, is a country in Southeastern Europe, located in the Balkans. Bosnia and Herzegovina borders Serbia to the east, Montenegro to the southeast, and Croatia to the north and southwest. In the south, it has a narrow coast on the Adriatic Sea within the Mediterranean, which is about 12 miles long and surrounds the town of Neum. Bosnia, which is the inland region of the country, has a moderate continental climate with hot summers and cold, snowy winters. In the central and eastern regions of the country, the geography is mountainous, in the northwest it is moderately hilly, and in the northeast, it is predominantly flat. Herzegovina, which is the smaller, southern region of the country, has a Mediterranean climate and is mostly mountainous. Sarajevo is the capital and the largest city in the country followed by Banja Luka, Tuzla, and Zenica. [Back]

Further Reading


Sandia National Libraries
Nature Physics
Smithsonian Magazine
Bee Culture
UAS Vision

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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