Register for an account


Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.


Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.


Cop Wasps vs. Drug Smugglers

By Susan KruglinskiFebruary 20, 2006 6:00 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

The spindly antennae of a common wasp are as sensitive to smells as the wet nose of a drug-sniffing police dog. With this in mind, biological engineer Glen Rains and his colleagues at the University of Georgia at Tifton have devised a contraption called the Wasp Hound: a canister no bigger than a medium-size soda cup filled with insects trained to detect smells. Rains developed a simple regimen to teach the insects to associate a particular odor with food. When the wasps in the canister catch a whiff of that odor—such as a chemical linked to a drug, bomb, toxin, or corpse—they cluster around the source; a minicamera inside the Wasp Hound monitors the insects' movements and transmits the results to a nearby laptop.

"The wasps are small and portable, and the training takes only about 5 or 10 minutes," says Rains, pointing out the advantages of wasps over dogs. The insects die within 48 hours, but when they expire, a cartridge of five freshly trained wasps can be popped into the canister. Rains sees no reason why future versions of the Wasp Hound couldn't be used to detect the chemical signatures of diseases in plants, animals, and humans. "The insects can be trained to recognize most chemicals," he says. "They are sensitive to just about anything."

3 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.


Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%


Already a subscriber? Register or Log In