Were all familiar with sniffer dogs being used by Customs and Quarantine to detect illegal drugs and prohibited foodstuffs. Sniffer dogs are said to be the most reliable way to detect explosives such as roadside bombs. They are now entering new fields such as bedbug, termite and mold detection in houses and detecting forms of cancer in patients. A new RIRDC project involves training a sniffer dog to detect American Foul brood (AFB), a serious disease in bee hives. Elroy, a 13 month old springer spaniel is currently going through a training program that will allow him to be able to detect the odour given out by AFB.
AFB is a lethal bacterial disease that affects the brood (developing bees) of honeybees when they are in the larval stage. The infected larvae die and decay in the cells and form a scale, which releases infectious spores. The decaying brood has a unique odour, and this is what Elroy is being trained to detect. According to trainer Martin Dominick The dogs sense of smell is incredible – they can detect odour at a rate of 1 gram diluted in 80,000,000 gallons of water, or a single termite under the floor of a house.
Martin says the concept of dogs sniffing out AFB is not new. In the USA, the State of Maryland has trained sniffer dogs to detect AFB since the 1970s and are still using them. This is the first time that this has been trialled in Australia. The benefit of using a sniffer dog to detect AFB is that humans cant detect the disease until the infectious scale has formed, but by this stage cross infection to other hives may have already occurred. If the dog can detect AFB in early stages less hives will be destroyed resulting in less loss of production.Also, the dog can inspect a whole apiary very quickly.
Trained dogs could be hired out at an hourly rate. It would take a human inspector a whole day to inspect 45 hives for AFB, but once trained Elroy will be able to inspect 100 hives in 45 minutes Martin said. Elroy’s training regime will involve learning obedience and searching techniques using empty beehives. He will then be trained to detect the odour of AFB at all stages, from freshly infected cells to dried-out infected brood. The Bio security Sciences Laboratory in Queensland is preparing the range of samples of AFB to be used in the trial.