Researchers trying to save bumblebees have a new weapon in their arsenal: Darwin, the country’s first “bee conservation dog.”
Darwin is a 2-year-old German shorthaired pointer whose specialty is sniffing out underground bumblebee nests.
See a picture of Darwin here:
Dog Is Helping to Save America’s Bumblebees
Bumblebee populations are declining worldwide. But humans still have much to learn about bumblebees and their nests. Staab is hoping that her work with Darwin will facilitate better conservation efforts in the areas where bees make their habitat.
“Obviously, there’s going to be cascading ecological effects if we lose keystone pollinators in any environment, much less the alpine,” she said.
Staab brought Darwin out to Colorado, where the two of them climbed mountains together in Park County. She lets Darwin hunt down the underground nests, and then she records all the data she can about their locations.
Among the data points Staab takes down: the species of bee, the angle of the slope where the nest was built, the distance to the nearest linear feature and how well-drained the soil is.
Training Darwin Was No Easy Task
Staab got the idea for a bumblebee-sniffing dog from a 2011 scientific paper in which the British military trained a dog to hunt down bumblebee nests. So she picked out a dog breed known for its hunting skills, and chose Darwin in particular from a family of detection dogs (one of whom is an NYPD cadaver dog), according to the Watauga Democrat.
When it came time to train Darwin, Staab struggled to find a willing trainer. Her request was eccentric, to say the least.
“I called a bunch of people and they were like, ‘What? I’ll get back to you never. Bumblebees, are you crazy?'” she told WCNC.
Finally, she found Highland K-9 in Harmony, North Carolina. They helped her slowly develop Darwin’s bee sniffing acumen until he could pick up nesting material scents without help.
Staab took Darwin out to Colorado for the first time this year. Their work is challenging. But Staab says it’s worth it to help save pollinators that are responsible for nearly $9 billion in value to the U.S. economy.
“Working with Darwin is really cool because he’s always super motivated, super positive, ready to go,” she added.