The humble honeybee is touted as the secret weapon in the search for unexploded landmines
The humble honey bee is touted as the secret weapon in the search for unexploded landmines

Scientists in Croatia say that bees can detect explosives thanks to their perfect sense of smell and might save hundreds of lives by finding unexploded mines.

It's claimed that the insects can sniff the odour of unexploded ordnance and be used in once war-torn countries such as Croatia.

Around 90,000 land mines are thought to remain buried, following the Croatian War of Independence.

The bees are trained by being fed a sugar solution mixed with the smell of TNT (trinitrotoluene) explosives.

Professor Nikola Kezic and his students set up several feeding points inside a tent, with only a few containing TNT particles.

The bees gather mainly at the pots containing the TNT/sugar solution, and not near the ones with a different smell.

Professor Kezic, who leads part of the mine detection operation Tirimisu, said he concluded that bees can clearly detect the explosives.

"This scent, it's coming from the TNT. In the centre of this scent, we put the reward," he told Sky News.

"We put sugar solution as a reward to condition the bees that they can find food just in the middle of (the) smell of TNT scent.

"We have been refining their abilities for many years and they are faster and safer than sniffer dogs."

The result of the bees' training was revealed this week by scientist Mateja Janes near the southern town of Skradin, Croatia. Researchers from the Agronomy Faculty at Zagreb University in Croatian capital have spent years working on the project.

"We have heard that Americans were trying to develop something similar in a secret project, but it seems we've developed it before them," professor Mateja Janes told the Croatian Times.

"Bees can smell flowers from a distance of 4.5 kilometres. Therefore they can smell the explosives at the same distance. They are better at it than dogs," the scientist added.

"We hope this is a concept which can be developed and we hope it is something we can export to other countries and become indispensable de-mining tools."

In June, Professor Janes and her team are preparing to use the bees in a real de-mining action near the southern town of Benkovac.

The area was the front line in the War for Independence, which raged from 1991 to 1995.