Bumblebees are being used to help capture serial killers -- and not by being trained to find and sting the culprits. Researchers have found that by analyzing a bee's geographic pattern as it goes around poking into flowers, they can deduce where the bee lives.
In an effort to refine the geographic profiling technique used to capture serial killers, scientists from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences in London tested the technique on bumblebees. Using computer model simulations to study the foraging habits of bees allowed researchers to distinguish between different types of foraging behavior.
The experiments highlight the two aspects on which geographic profiling relies: the fact that serial crimes happen near the killer's home; and that the home is surrounded by a buffer zone, an area close to home where a crime has a low probability of being committed.
During the experiments, researchers observed that bees did not visit flowers near the hive, creating a similar buffer zone. Most likely, the bees' buffer zone is used to keep predators and parasites from easily locating the hive. Predators don't use computer models, though, and we do: by studying the distribution of the flowers the bees visited beyond the buffer zone, and using geographic profiling techniques akin to the ones used to track killers, researchers were able to find the entrance to the hive.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.