Pentagon training bees to swarm into action

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The Pentagon is preparing a sting operation with a difference – training ordinary bees to smell out explosives, drugs and even to help clear minefields.

For the past three years government-funded scientists have been doing tests, training bees to detect materials other than pollen. Officials hope that they could be used as apian sniffer dogs, swarming into action when required.

In two tests last year, bees were able to detect two trucks tainted with explosives. Scientists say the bees are at least as sensitive to odours as dogs.

"The preliminary results have so far been very encouraging," said a spokeswoman for the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is funded by the Pentagon.

The bees are trained to detect the various substances by a simple method of reward association. Scientists at the Air Force research laboratory in Texas said the bees were successful in 99 per cent of tests. "One of the methods is to associate the odour with a food source," they said.

The Pentagon is considering establishing bee colonies near security checkpoints.