Locusts trained to detect explosives and report back

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Locusts have been trained to detect explosives and to send back a signal wirelessly to an operator. It sounds like science fiction but locusts have an excellent sense of “smell” (they don’t use a nose to sniff the odour!). They can detect and track new smells within a few hundred milliseconds. They have 50,000 sensors in their antennae.

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Locust rigged with transmission device. Photo: BARANIDHARAN RAMAN.

The U.S. Navy have jumped on this sensory skill to use locusts to their advantage. It is just another example of humans using animals such as miners using canaries to detect explosive gases and businesses using pigs to detect truffles.

The U.S. Navy has invested three quarters of a million dollars into researching how they can use locusts as a bomb-sniffing cyborg. They want to turn the pest which swarms using pheromones into a sophisticated naval weapon.

They implanted tiny sensors into the insect’s head which transmit brain signals back to the operator allowing them to monitor the locust’s brain. They were able to train them with treats. They found that locusts can tell the difference between the smell of different explosives and they can do it very quickly i.e. within a few hundred milliseconds of exposure to the smell.

The locust’s sense of smell is more powerful than anything that humans can artificially replicate according to the report in The Times Today. They want locusts to detect gases released by explosive substances such as the one that has recently been in the press and which destroyed a large part of Beirut, namely, ammonium nitrate. Other explosives they would like to detect our TNT and DNT.

As the locust approached the source of the smell thier brain signals changed. The person monitoring the insect can then tell where the explosive is.