Date: May 10, 2006
Pam Eastlick for THE DEEP on line
Float Like a Butterfly
Detect Bombs Like a Bee?
Welcome to The Deep science and technology
column where we cover topics from the deep sea to deep space and
beyond. Join us each week on Newstalk K57 on Wednesday night from
7 to 8 p.m. for exciting live science expeditions or listen live
on our web site www.thedeepradioshow.com
Don’t you just hate mud daubers, aka
wasps or bees? They’re everywhere and anything you
leave outside is soon home to all those yucky little dirt
pots with the holes in the top. If something has a hole
in it, it gets filled up with mud. I once saw a (legal)
gun in a house but if the owner had tried to point it at
me to threaten me, I would have laughed at him because the
barrel was full of . . . you guessed it! . . . . dirt dauber
The only good thing you can say about them is that they
don’t sting unless seriously provoked. The only time
I ever got stung was when I put on my blouse in the morning
and there was a dirt dauber inside it. I even knew a special
ed kid who liked to put them in his mouth and let them crawl
around. They never stung him.
But, they are nuisances, and the wasps that do sting can be seriously
harmful. The ones that build paper nests here on Guam are dangerous
and more people die from bee and wasp stings every year in the
USA than die from snake bite.
So, what good are they? Well, the dirt daubers prey on all sorts
of caterpillars that would defoliate the jungle if left unchecked.
And scientists have recently come up with a brand-new use for
these common pests.
They’re using trained
wasps, rather than trained dogs, to detect specific chemical
odors. These wasps may be used to find hidden explosives,
plant diseases, illegal drugs, cancer and even buried bodies,
according to a joint study by researchers at the University
of Georgia and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
A species of wasp similar to our mud daubers
(but much smaller) can be trained in only five minutes and
are just as sensitive to odors as man's best friend, which
can require up to six months of training at a cost of about
$15,000 per dog.The trained wasps are contained in a cup-sized
device, called a "Wasp Hound," that triggers an
alarm or a visual signal, like a flashing light, when the
insects encounter a target odor. With the Wasp Hound, researchers
have been able to use the insects to detect target odors
such as a toxin that grows on corn and peanuts, and a chemical
used in certain explosives.
The wasps don’t live very long, so you constantly have
to train new ones, but they are certainly cheaper and apparently
more reliable than other methods we’ve tried. What will
scientists think of next?
This week on The Deep, we’ll also be talking to Ronnie
Sellman about “Water Babies” and how some women are
giving birth underwater. There are some surprising benefits and
you’ll learn all about it and the trained wasps tomorrow
night starting at 6:30 p.m. on Newstalk K57. The Deep is broadcast
on Newstalk K57 every Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. You can also
listen live from our web site www.thedeepradioshow.com. Join Jim
Sullivan, Pam Eastlick, and Peter Melyan on the deepest radio
show on Earth.