Just when you thought insects could get any more amazing (you didn’t know insects were amazing?!) researchers have found that a certain type of wasp (non-stinging, no less!) has a sense of smell at least as good as a hound dog, and is able to be trained in 5 minutes to detect and respond to as specific smell! The result? The Wasp Hound, a plastic tube containing 5 wasps and a sensor that monitors their motion. When they detect a scent, they gather near the vent setting off the sensor! They envision the wasps as being used for detecting explosives at airports, toxins in crops, and even detect diseases by measuring chemicals in a person’s breath!
One neat thing is how they trained the wasps – “hungry” wasps are exposed to the desired scent, then fed sugar water. Wait, repeat two times and bingo – your wasps are fully trained! The wasps would have a 48 hour shift before being released to live out the rest of the 2-3 week lifespan.
And these guys aren’t the only ones doing insect research – another group has been exploring fitting a tiny transmitter to bees, which have been trained to detect explosives, drugs or other chemicals of interest. They point out that their bees are better than the wasps for open area searching, but not quite so good for crowded airports given that the bees can roam free… This all seems to be part of a growing field of using insects as “biological sensors” – guess it won’t be long before having computer bugs is a good thing!