The Yugoslav Wars, which mired the Balkan peninsula in conflict during much of the 1990s, witnessed the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia into different Slavic states — namely Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Montenegro, and Macedonia.
Among the problems that continue to plague the region is the issue of lingering land mines that still speckle the region.
During the conflict, an estimated 90,000 land mines were placed across what is now Croatia. Since 1991, about 2,500 people have died from land mine explosions in the Croatia — including several de-miners. While there's been an extensive cleanup, there’s still more than 450 square miles that are suspected to be filled with mines in the coastal, eastern European country.
But there might be so new, unlikely heroes in town — and they have a sweet tooth.
Yes, sugar-craving honeybees are all the buzz when it comes to the newest innovative way to seek out unexploded land mines.
Scientists have known for sometime that bees have a very acute sense of smell, one that rivals and sometimes betters the canine. In the past, bees have been used to sniff out drugs, uranium, pregnant women, and even diseases like cancer. But now, thanks to Croatian scientists, honeybees are adding a new skill to their already impressive repertoire.
Under the oddly-named Tiramisu (Toolbox Implementation for Removal of Anti-personnel Mines, Submunitions and UXOs) project, Croatian scientists have opted for a Pavlov-like approach to condition the honeybees by exposing the bees to a mixture comprised of a sugar solution and a small amount of TNT. The hope is that when the bees are released over a latent minefield, they will, in their voracious pursuit of a sweet treat, simultaneously and conveniently flock to the smell of TNT, thereby alerting the Croatians to any missed mines.
And unlike the unfortunate dogs and rats that came before them, bees have the obvious advantage in that they’re light enough to sniff out the mines without setting them off.