A dog’s nose is remarkably more adept at its function than a human nose. Though it’s hard to give a precise numerical value to sense acuity, a dog’s nose is considered between 10,000 times and 100,000 times as sensitive as a human’s. An analogous example would be vision. At this level of acuity, for every one-third of a mile a human could see, a dog would see 3,000 miles. So yes, a dog’s nose is amazing.
Police have used dogs for over a century. Bloodhounds were even used in 1888 to track Jack the Ripper. But dogs aren’t the only animals that have amazing detective skills, and they can find a lot more than criminals or drugs.
10. Rats Can Hunt Explosives and Tuberculosis
The fear of rats seems to be a common one, and this could be for any number of reasons, not the least of which is their historical association with disease. But if you start to think of them as little dogs, that might help because rats can be trained in many of the same ways dogs can. This training can save lives.
Rats have been trained to detect tuberculosis, which is still one of the top 10 causes of death in the world, and they’re extremely good at it. In fact, they score 68% better at detecting TB than actual TB tests designed for the job.
Since the World Health Organization estimates about 250,000 children die of TB every year, proper detection is invaluable. Those who have the disease emit an odor rats can easily detect, even when clinical methods and testing overlook the disease.
That same sense of smell is what has made rats equally valuable in detecting explosives. Giant African pouch rats, which can weigh close to three pounds, are able to detect chemical compounds in explosives like landmines. They’re used in places like Cambodia to find unexploded mines, as it’s believed there are upwards of 6 million mines still hidden away. The rats can find the mines, but are not heavy enough to trip them, allowing their human handlers to disable and remove the devices.
9. Bees Can Detect Cancer, Explosives and Drugs
Smelling is not technically something a bee can do the same way a dog can. Bees do not have noses. However, they still have olfactory sensors in several parts of their body, including their legs. This makes sense because, in that quest for nectar, they need to smell their targets. It’s been suggested that a bee’s ability to smell is as much as 50 times greater than a dog’s.
With their enhanced abilities, bees have demonstrated a remarkable ability to detect early stage cancer in humans. The detection process is fairly simple – bees trained to detect the biomarker for cancer or other diseases wait in a glass contained. A human breathes into one end. If the markers are there, the bee goes towards the smell.
Similarly, bees are being used to detect drugs. German researchers trained them to be able to distinguish between drugs like heroin and cocaine. The training is very simple. You present the bee with the smell you want them to detect and reward them with sugar water. Do it enough and they’ll hunt down the smell on their own. The same method is used to train them to detect landmines as well.
The most impressive part? Bees are quick learners. The developer of the cancer test said she could train the bees to respond to the odor in just 10 minutes.
8. Dogs Can Be Trained to Detect Numerous Illnesses
Stopping crime is one thing, but a well trained dog can save lives. We saw how bees can detect cancer, but man’s best friend is not about to be shown up by an insect. Dogs can detect cancer, too. Also, low blood sugar in diabetics, high blood pressure in people with cardiac issues, oncoming seizures in those with epilepsy and similar disorders and even Covid-19.
Even conditions you’d never expect can be picked up by a well-trained canine. For instance, some dogs can detect migraines. They can even do this up to 48 hours before the human sufferer feels symptoms thanks to changes in the nervous system that produce subtle changes to odor that dogs can detect.
Beyond that, dogs have also been trained to detect panic attacks, strokes, sleep disorders like narcolepsy. For any given condition, hormone levels in your body will change and alter your body odor in ways that are easy for dogs to quickly detect. The result is a lot of saved lives.
7. Elephants Can Find Bombs
So if dogs can detect bombs, bees can detect bombs and even rats can detect bombs, is there any need for another bomb sniffer? Always. Elephants seem especially adept. They can be trained very much like dogs and have a long history of being forced to adapt to how humans have made their environments dangerous. Elephants were observed in Angola traveling through areas laden with mines but stealthily avoiding them all, indicating they had a well-developed ability to detect the danger inherent in them without any human training needed. And, unlike dogs, elephants don’t require constant training and reinforcement.That old adage about an elephant having a good memory is true.
6. Crows Have Been Trained to Clean Up Cigarette Butts
Crows are known to be one of the most intelligent species in the world. They demonstrate problem solving skills and seem to have exceptional memories as well. So the idea of training them is not far-fetched at all.
One inventor managed to train crows to collect and deposit money in a vending machine. The crows did it for a reward and soon learned to continue the behavior in a more natural way. The purpose was not to make crows thieves, although that could arguably be a possibility. It demonstrates that crows, which live in spaces with humans, can be trained to help humans. This has been born out in Sweden, where crows have been trained to collect cigarette butts.
Like the money experiment, the Swedish plan involves having crows deposit butts in a machine. When they do so, they’re given a small food reward. It’s estimated that one billion butts per year are hitting the ground per year in Sweden and the city with the crow experiment has an annual street cleaning budget of $2.7 million. For literal peanuts, they believe the budget could be slashed by 75%.
5. Currency Dogs Can Sniff Out Money
Have you ever gotten a decent sum of money and taken the time to smell the bills? Money has a curiously distinct odor and that spells bad news for anyone trying to illegally traffic in large sums of cash. Currency dogs can detect money just as easily as they detect drugs, and they’ve been trained to detect US currency as well as Euro notes and other international bills. One dog who worked for the Canadian Border Services managed to detect $70 million during its tenure. That included one single bust of $650,000.
The dogs are trained to pick up on large sums of money, an excess of $10,000. Large sums are all meant to be declared, so whether or not it comes from illegal sources, border agents need to know about it.
In addition to normal currency dogs, there are even counterfeit currency dogs that can tell when money is not the real deal.
4. Dogs and Wasps Can Be Trained to Sniff out Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are hands down some of the most off-putting creatures in the world. They feed on your bed in your sleep. It’s very unpleasant. But if you fear their insidious presence, there’s good news. Both dogs and wasps can be trained to detect them.
The bugs produce distinct pheromones, and both dogs and wasps are able to detect the smell fairly quickly. Wasps are actually better at it than dogs, and some entrepreneurial scientists even developed a waste-based detection system called Wasp Hound that worked in about 20 seconds.
Because dogs are generally more well accepted than wasps, they tend to be used more for detection. Some pest control companies actually have specially trained bed bug dogs on staff that can be sent to a place to determine if there’s an infestation.
3. Electronics Dogs Can Sniff Out SD Cards and More
Once it became clear dogs could be trained to hunt a lot more than just drugs and people, that opened up a lot of new avenues for law enforcement. And that’s where a dog named URL, sometimes called the Smut Mutt comes in. This dog has been trained to find electronic storage devices, like SD cards or removable hard drives, or even cell phones. One of these dogs helped in the case against former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle. The dog found hidden USB drives that contained child pornography.
Obviously a dog has no way to know if the electronics contain anything illegal, but since they can smell the compounds used to produce them, if they detect some hidden away in floorboards or behind walls, there’s a good chance someone put it there for a reason.
2. Wildlife Dogs Detect Natural Targets
We’ve already covered so much of what dogs can do but there is an even more unique skillset they possess when they’re trained as wildlife dogs.Obviously dogs can track humans or other animals by scent, but they’re also skilled at detecting very specific animals.
Wildlife dogs in Connecticut have been trained to detect certain fish, like striped bass and trout, that anglers may not be able to legally catch. The dogs would presumably ignore other fish species if there was no issue with them being caught.
Fish and Game also use mussel dogs to help detect invasive species like quagga and zebra mussels. The dogs can inspect boats and the hulls can be cleaned to prevent the spread of the mussels, which are having a major environmental impact as they clog waterways.
Wildlife detector dogs are also used to stop trafficking in prohibited wildlife items. These dogs can smell ivory from elephants, rhino horn, snakeskin and more.
1. Mice Can Be Used to Detect Deepfake Technology
Faking photos and videos is actually a fairly old technology. Everyone knows about Photoshop and airbrushing and all that. You can watch movies that show aliens fighting in space, so we all understand that images can be manipulated in convincing ways. But deepfake technology somehow took people by surprise around 2018 or so.
A deepfake takes manipulation to a level we aren’t comfortable with by manipulating images of real people with some AI technology. It’s been used to make people like Barack Obama look like they’re saying things they never said. It’s also big in pornography where fakers can make a celebrity appear to be in an adult film when it never really happened. These fakes can be extremely realistic. And the repercussions are dramatic – deepfake fraud is already a thing. Scammers robbed a bank of $35 million after faking the voice of the head of a company.
Amazingly, protection against deepfakes may come from mice. Mice have a remarkable skill for distinguishing speech variations. Enough that they may be able to detect the difference between real speech and AI-generated speech.
Sadly, the plan is not to have a lab full of detective mice rooting out fakes. Instead, the hope is that the method mice use can be duplicated to make computer detection of deepfakes more efficient.