How dogs’ incredible sense of smell can help beekeepers

Dogs are truly amazing, not only for their loyalty and affection but also for their incredible sense of smell. It is common knowledge that their nose easily overpowers our own.  In fact, it’s approximately 10,000 times better according to researchers at FSU. James Walker describes it well: “If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well.” Say, I’m at home making beef stew on the stove and my two beagles are hovering around me salivating from the smell. All I smell is beef stew (although delicious) where my beagles smell the stew meat, potatoes, carrots, onion and spices individually. No wonder it drives them crazy!

My beagle mix Nellie I adopted from a local shelter. Beagles are scent hounds and were originally bred to hunt for rabbits.

My beagle mix Nellie I adopted from a local shelter. Beagles are scent hounds and were originally bred to hunt for rabbits.

For years now, professionals have been training dogs to use their sniffers for human purpose. Dogs have been known to accurately detect drugs, explosives and even firearms. They are used regularly by customs to find plants, animals and produce and have even been used to detect bumblebee nests. So why stop there? Some beekeepers have come up with an idea to get their dogs out into the apiary and have begun the process of training their faithful hounds to detect American Foulbrood disease.

American Foulbrood is a debilitating disease that plagues beekeepers across the US. It’s very difficult to treat (some strains are antibiotic resistant) and it’s extremely contagious. Because it is so difficult to clean up some beekeepers burn their equipment to be sure that it doesn’t spread in their apiary. Rob Snyder wrote an awesome blog about AFB. I highly recommend that you check it out here.

Grant Stiles of NJ is one of the few beekeepers who has successfully trained his dog to detect AFB. His Labrador Retriever Buck was trained alongside police drug K9s. In a similar style of drug-sniffing dogs Buck walks along the hives using his sensitive nose to examine each one. If he smells AFB, he will sit down next to the hive to alert his owner. As you can imagine Buck’s method is much faster than a beekeeper inspecting each colony separately. In fact, Buck can inspect 20 colonies in less than 10 minutes!

Time equals money, especially for commercial beekeepers. Having an AFB dog could potentially reduce costs in the long-run. There’s only one downfall, honeybees see dogs as a threat and won’t hesitate to sting. Its best to have the dog inspect hives while bees are dormant during the cooler months. However in areas of the world like Australia, this really isn’t an option.  Josh Kennett solved this problem by designing a bee suit for his dog Bazz. In Australia, high temps can make bees particularly aggressive, but this suit effectively protects Bazz from stings. And let’s face it, it’s kind of cute.

Bazz in a homemade bee suit, taken by Josh Kennett.

Bazz in a homemade bee suit, taken by Josh Kennett.

I’m not going to lie; I’m seriously considering pulling out the sewing machine and stitching up a beagle-sized version for my dogs. If I attempt it, I’ll be sure to let you know if I’m successful! What do you think about AFB sniffing dogs in bee suits? Wouldn’t it be great if state inspectors had a K9 unit? Something to think about…

 

Written By: Rachel Bozarth

Rachel Bozarth has written 17 post in this blog.

I work for the University of Maryland as a research assistant analyzing honey bee alcohol samples from the Bee Informed Partnership and the APHIS National Honey bee Survey. I specialize in Nosema spore counts, but also enjoy field work in the USDA BRL bee yards. I have my bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from Wesley College and I wish to continue my education in Entomology and beekeeping. Before coming to BIP, I worked on a variety of projects at UMD including scouting corn fields for brown marmorated stink bug, testing the effectiveness of SHB traps and assisting with horticulture research at the UMD Wye Research Center. I love the learning environment my job provides and in the future I hope to start a bee yard of my own.

  • Shirley Murphy

    I loved this story and expect one day to see dogs widely used for this purpose. I too, have an 11 year old lab mix from the shelter. She is a fantastic dog with an amazing nose for moles, rabbits, and anything else that visited the property during the night.

    Unfortunately, I was not able to share this story on facebook. The selection button did not work.

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