Honeybees are vitally important, and not just for their honey — they're important pollinators of food crops. But in recent years, there's been a serious decline in the honeybee population. Among the biggest culprits are bacteria called American foulbrood.
The bacteria's microscopic spores spread quickly from beehive to beehive, killing the bee larvae. The spores can survive for many years. Fortunately, if the bacteria are detected early enough, antibiotics can save the hive.
For decades, many states have had bee inspectors on their payrolls in an effort to keep the bacteria under control. But inspecting beehives for bacteria is a time-consuming job for humans, who must open each bee colony to look for the infection. A human bee inspector might take a full day to inspect 50 beehives. [source: Coren]
Fortunately, with proper training, the same keen sense of smell that enables dogs to detect illegal drugs can be used to nose out the foulbrood bacteria. In the late 1970s, the state of Maryland started using dogs to help human inspectors. A well-trained dog can inspect as many as 100 beehives in less than an hour by sniffing. [source: Johnson]
The canine inspector walks along rows of beehives, sniffing for the bacteria. If a dog smells the foulbrood, it sits in front of the hive to alert its handler. Of course, the job has its hazards: A bee sting can be painful for a dog's delicate nose. Fortunately, inspections can be made during the cool months when bees are less active.