Sending animals to do our dirty work—specifically of the drug-sniffing, bomb-hunting variety—isn’t a novel concept by any means.
But while an animal bomb-sniffing squad might conjure up the image of a noble K9 dog, Croatians are now depending on a very different, perhaps not quite as lovable bomb fiend: the common honeybee.
Because though the Balkan wars may have ended several decades ago, there’s still over 460 square miles of territory just brimming with unexploded mines. The European Union, which will finally call Croatia its own come July 1, understandably has a bit of problem with this. Since the start of the Balkan war in 1991, it’s estimated that around 2,500 people have died from land mine explosions, and the 90,000 mines scattered around the country were placed at random and without any sort of map.
So Nikola Kezic, a professor at Zagreb University and honeybee behavior expert, has been working with a team of researchers to bend the bees to our bomb-hunting will. Honeybees, conveniently, have a perfect sense of smell—all the better to track down delicious nectar with. Making use of this (figurative) nose that far surpasses our own, the scientists have been drizzling a team of bees’ food with TNT particles. This way, the bees begin to associate the smell of real, live explosives with their next meal.