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Olfaction in insects is an important sense.

Insect olfaction is sensitive down to parts per trillion[1] and the use of insects to conduct searches for illegal drugs, and explosives[2]—particularly in security[3] applications such as demining—is envisaged.[4] The technology has been tested by QinetiQ for Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining.[5] Potential health uses are also reported,[6] such as for TB.[7] Inscentinel is a patent holder.[8][9] The species of bee used is Apis mellifera.[10]

Antennae are the primary olfactory sensors of insects[11] and are accordingly well-equipped with a wide variety of sensilla (singular: sensillum). Paired, mobile, and segmented, they are located between the eyes on the forehead. Embryologically, they represent the appendages of the second head segment.[12]

Bees and wasps are trained using classical conditioning, being exposed to a particular odour and then rewarded with a sugar solution.[13] Within five minutes they learn to associate the smell with an impending supply of food and this triggers the proboscis extension reflex (sticking out their tongues).[14]

Trained hymenopterans have been shown to successfully detect explosive materials including TNT, Semtex, and C-4 as well as gunpowder and propellants.[13][15] Wasps can be trained to detect the early signs of fungal disease on crops and may have medicinal value, identifying people with cancer just by being exposed to their breath.[16] Bees have been shown to detect and respond to more than 60 different odours including methamphetamine, uranium, and tuberculosis. They have been used to detect lung and skin cancers, diabetes, and to confirm pregnancy.[17]

Researchers at the University of Georgia have built a device named the "Wasp Hound" which contains the parasitic wasp species Microplitis croceipes. The insects normally walk around the PVC pipe in which they are housed but begin to migrate towards the source of an odour when it is the one that they were trained to recognise. These movements are tracked by a computer, with small cameras inside the device sending images for processing. Within 30 seconds of the wasps beginning to congregate near an odour source an alarm is sounded.[18]

Workers in the fieldEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. Inscentinel Develops Bee-Based Sensor Device to Detect Explosives. AZO Sensors website. AZO sensors. URL accessed on 3 March 2012.
  2. Sniffer bees set to snare suicide bombers. This is London Website. This Is London. URL accessed on 3 March 2012.
  3. Inscentinel Honeybees Sniff For Explosives: Science Fiction in the NewsInscentinel Honeybees Sniff For Explosives: Science Fiction in the News. Science Profiles Website. Science Profiles. URL accessed on 3 March 2012.
  4. Pre-Trial Assessment (PTA) of the Inscentinel system using bees for detection of explosives.. GICHD Website. GICHD. URL accessed on 3 March 2012.
  5. Bees Can Sniff Out Disease in Humans. Daily Express Website. Express Group Newspapers. URL accessed on 3 March 2012.
  7. Detection of odors using insects. Justia Patents Website. Justia. URL accessed on 3 March 2012.
  8. Insect Loading System. PatentStormUS. URL accessed on 3 March 2012.
  9. Khot, Anna Humble Honey Bee Helping National Security. Naked Scientists Website. Naked Scientists. URL accessed on 3 March 2012.
  10. Darby, Gene (1958). What is a butterfly?, Chicago: Benefic Press.
  11. (2005) The Insects: an Outline of Entomology, 3rd, Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.
  12. 13.0 13.1 Hodgson, Martin. Sniffer bees: New flying squad in war against terror. The Independent. 7 May 2006. Accessed 6 October 2011.
  13. Trained Wasps May Be Used To Detect Bombs, Bugs, Bodies And More. Science Daily. 21 October 2005. Accessed 6 October 2011.
  14. Detecting Explosives With Honeybees: Experts Develop Method To Train Air Force Of Bomb-Sniffing Bees. Science Daily. 29 November 2006. Accessed 6 October 2011.
  15. Hall, Mimi. Scientists recruit wasps for war on terror. USA Today. 26 December 2005. Accessed 6 October 2011.
  16. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Halter
  17. Appel, Adrianne. Drug-Sniffing Wasps May Sting Crooks. National Geographic. 27 October 2005. Accessed 6 October 2011.

External linksEdit