Sir, These Bees Suggest You’re Hiding Explosives

By Camilla Bee, Editor

If you’re a reader of this newsletter, you’re probably already fairly impressed at what honeybees can do. As if their ability to fly—even though aeronautical engineers can’t explain why—isn’t stupendous enough, there’s also that whole “making honey” thing that no one else can do.

Another one of honeybees’ amazing capabilities was recently brought to our attention in the March issue of The Scientist, in an article called “T-Bee.” Tuberculosis (TB) has a unique scent, and microbiologist Steve Chambers reasoned that if something could reliably detect that scent, it may be an easier way to test for the disease.

Chambers identified the “perfume of TB,” and it turns out that its key scents are very attractive to insects. Additional research and connections led Chambers to a United Kingdom company called Inscentinel. Inscentinel is working, as busy as bees, on an application that uses honeybees to detect explosives and drugs. Its bee trainers have taught bees to stick out their tongues (proboscises) when they smell particular substances.

The training seemingly goes quite well. As shown in a video at, it only takes minutes to train bees to react to a particular scent—probably a good thing considering the lifespan of a bee! Other videos at the website show how the “sniffer bees” as drug- and explosive-detecting beings work—how they’re inserted into a special carrying case, how their reactions are detected and shared. In addition to airport screenings, Inscentinel is also working on sniffer bee applications for cargo screening, anti-personnel landmines, and medical diagnosis.

Lightly pollinated with cheeky humor, provides a highly engaging overview of their work with our favorite insect. Check it out!

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