Page last updated at 11:31 GMT, Friday, 29 August 2008 12:31 UK

Dog to sniff out threatened bees

Toby
Toby is the only dog in the world trained to find bumblebees

Researchers studying the decline of the bumblebee have trained a dog to sniff out the insects in the wild.

Toby, a three-year-old Springer spaniel, can find the bees' nests, hidden in dense undergrowth or in the ground, using only his nose.

Experts at the University of Stirling said that studying the threatened bees was made much harder because of the difficulty in tracking them down.

The three-year project involving Toby is the first of its kind.

Prof Dave Goulson, who will oversee the work of Toby, said that his involvement would give a huge boost to conservation efforts.

He said that of the UK's 25 varieties of bumblebee, three had become extinct and several others were in danger of going the same way because researchers knew very little about how they lived and what was destroying them.

Nasal talents

Prof Goulson said: "The real obstacle to studying bumblebees is that we can't find the nests.

"They have only about 50 workers and maybe 100 in the bumblebee nest so there isn't a lot of traffic going in and out. You can imagine that occasionally seeing a bee flying out of a clump of grass is pretty hard to spot."

Toby's nasal talents were honed at the army dog-training school at Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire where dogs are trained to sniff out explosives.

He was taken to the centre after being found abandoned in Birmingham as a pup.

The plan to use Toby was inspired by research which found that badgers hunt bee nests for food using their sense of smell.

The project is being funded by a £111,956 grant from the Leverhulme Trust.

Toby and handler Steph O'Connor are sponsored by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, a charity set up in 2006 to halt the insect's decline.



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