You know that dogs have a keen sense of smell, but did you know their nose is actually 10,000 times stronger than a human’s? This comes in handy for hunting and drug-sniffing, but the Maryland Department of Agriculture has actually been training dogs to sniff out bacteria. Why?
One of the many dangers facing honeybees today is Paenibacillus larvae, or the American Foulbrood (AFB). This bacterium sends teeny-tiny spores into hives through “robber” bees (bees often steal honey from other colonies) or infected equipment. Once the spores are inside the hive, the nurse bees unknowingly feed contaminated food to their precious larvae, killing them. Antibiotics can stop a major outbreak and save the hive if AFB is caught in time, but if it isn’t, the whole hive has to be burned along with any equipment that touched the infected hive.
Since 1982, the Maryland Department of Agriculture has been training dogs to sniff out AFB in hives before it becomes a real problem. The canines are excellent workers; they can inspect 100 colonies in less than an hour, while it takes a person a whole day to inspect just 45 colonies. Additionally, because dogs only need to walk by a hive and sniff, the bees and hive aren’t disturbed.
Currently, Cybil Preston and her Labrador retriever – Mack – are in charge of the hives. Tukka, a springer spaniel, is in training. What does this look like? To start with, Tukka is given toys that smell like AFB, so he can recognize the scent. Once Tukka is ready, he’ll begin his inspecting rounds during fall and winter, when the bees are calmer. Preston and Mack have been so successful, she received a federal farm bill grant to expand the program. Hopefully other states can begin training and save more honeybee hives from AFB.