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They're being trained to sniff out bacteria that destroys beehives

Kate Welsh
July 03, 2018

Worldwide, bee populations have been suffering for the past few years. And that's bad news for literally everyone. Pollination is essential to the health of plants that provide air filtration—remember eighth grade bio?—and food. Bees are responsible for pollinating about a third of the United States' crops. Without them, necessary ecosystems fall apart. The decline in bee populations has been linked to environmental changes, stress, and bacterial diseases that spread throughout hives. 

Now, for the good news: According to a story in the New York Times, dogs are being trained to sniff out a particularly devastating bacteria to beehives called foulbrood.

Bacteria like foulbrood can easily spread between hives, quickly damaging an entire area's honeybee health. Four years ago, Cybil Preston, the chief apiary inspector for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, began training a dog named Mack to identify hives where foulbrood has killed any larvae. Last fall and winter, the golden labrador inspected 1700 hives. "Four people working full time cover less than half of what [Mack] can," Preston told the Times. (Unlike dogs, humans would have to open up each hive to check for foulbrood visually.)

Mack's work has allowed Maryland to ship out certified-healthy beehives from their commercial colony all over the country—to Florida to pollinate citrus, to California for almonds, to Maine for blueberries—year-round to help keep crops thriving. 

Preston recently received a grant through the federal farm bill to build out the canine-detection program she started with Mack. If all goes well, it will prove to be a model for other states.

Who knew man's best friend was also bee's best friend? 


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