News - January 15, 2015

BEE VERSUS DOG: THE JURY’S OUT

Text:
Roelof Kleis

Bees smell at least as well as dogs.

The brain of your average honeybee weights 0.64 milligrams. Yet the brain of an insect works much better than our one and a half kilos of grey matter, reckons

entomologist Hans Smid. Human brains contain an average of 86 billion cells. ‘But if we had a bee brain of one and a half kilos, we would have 2345 billion

brain cells. ’This is one of many interesting facts at the first of the Insects and Society lecture series, last Wednesday in a packed Forum classroom. Insects have very good noses. And Smid should know: his group studies the smelling and learning behaviour of ichneumon wasps. But do insects have a better sense of

smell than dogs? Dogs such as Cliff, Hotsche Luik’s beagle. Luik trains dogs to carry out particular tasks. And Cliff is the only dog in the world that can track down the hospital bacterium Clostridium difficile (C-dif). Cliff rarely gets it wrong: his success rate is 97 percent. Dogs such as Cliff are used for the craziest things.

Identifying various forms of cancer, for instance. But which has the best sense of smell, then? Dogs or insects? The answer is not decisive. It depends what your aim is. The second lecture took place yesterday, and there are six more to come. The topics can be found on Entomology’s website.

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Photos: Guy Ackermans