ZAGREB:  Dogs are well-known for being able to sniff out deadly explosives but they could have a rival in the future - honeybees.

Researchers say the insects have a perfect sense of smell that can detect the odour and they may be used to help find unexploded landmines in Croatia. The sugar-craving bees are being trained to identify their food by using the scent of TNT (trinitrotoluene), a powerful explosives mix.

Professor Nikola Kezic and his students set up several feeding points inside a tent, with only a few containing TNT particles. The method of authenticating the scent of explosives with the food they eat appears to work. The bees gather mainly at the pots containing a sugar solution mixed with TNT, and not the ones that have a different smell.

Prof Kezic, who leads part of the mine detection operation Tirimisu, said he concluded that bees can clearly detect the explosives.

He said: "This scent, it's coming from the TNT. In the centre of this scent, we put the reward. We put sugar solution as a reward to condition the bees that they can find food just in the middle of (the) smell of TNT scent."–SN

Dogs and even rats have been used to detect explosives worldwide, but unlike bees, they could set off blasts on the minefields because of their weight.

Once the experiment with bees proves scientifically reliable, the idea is to use them in areas that have already been de-mined where their movement would be followed with heat-seeking cameras.

Around 460 square miles are still suspected to be filled with mines from Croatia's war in the 1990s but coming to the rescue could be the unlikely insect heroes.

Officials estimate that since the beginning of the Balkan wars in 1991, about 2,500 people have died from landmine explosions.

During the four-year conflict, 90,000 landmines were placed mostly at random and without any plan or existing maps.

Prof Kezic said US researchers had in the past experimented with mine-searching bees, but TNT was not part of their tests because its smell evaporated quickly and only small traces remain after time.