More 60-Second Science
March 20, 2007 -- Bees Identify Specific Toxins With Specific Buzzes
Scientists at the University of Montana are abuzz over the possibility that bees could help to signal the presence of poisons or even thwart a chemical attack. Beekeepers have known for centuries that hives make a different sound when someone removes the queen. The Montana researchers find that bees also change their tune when exposed to toxic chemicals. Not only that, but the resulting buzzzzz can actually help diagnose the problem. An angry bzzz could mean watch out for that malathion. Whereas an agitated bzbz might say, we’ve got mites.
The scientists, who’ve started a company called Bee Alert, recorded the hubbub of hives using what was basically a human hearing aid on a stick. They then sprayed the little honeymakers with some nasty chemicals and, using software to analyze the resulting bee-remarks, discovered that they could identify which poison had been used.
But don’t toss that canary from your coal mine just yet. Bee Alert is still seeking patents on its setup, so the bee-based biological alarm system is not yet for sale. For now, you’ll have to continue to rely on Tweetie to keep you safe from whatever noxious fumes might waft your way.