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The buzz on Klinker, Md.’s newby bee dog

Sniffing out harmful bacteria in bee colonies is a full time job for Klinker — “our newest employee,” said William Troup, an apiary inspector with the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

A black Labrador retriever trained late last year, Klinker is part of the department’s strategy to detect diseased bee colonies. Specifically, she’s looking for American foulbrood, the most common and destructive bacterial disease facing Maryland’s honeybees.

Klinker’s normal workday consists of walking along rows of hives. When she smells bacteria, she sits, alerting her handler.

A recent Washington Post story described American foulbrood as a bacteria that forms microscopic spores that can survive for decades, spreading quickly from hive to hive, killing bee larvae. If the infection is caught early, the hive can be treated with antibiotics. If not, the hive usually must be destroyed.

Since the 1970s, U.S. beekeepers have reported a shrinking bee population because of bacteria, disease, pesticides and parasites. Some of those factors might also contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder, in which worker bees abandon their hive for no known reason.

“If it were not for the honeybees, there would not be enough food on Planet Earth to support life as we know it,” said Jerry Fischer, who is in charge of the state’s Apiary Inspection Program. “Early detection of the disease by Klinker and Troup will save Maryland beekeepers substantial monetary loss from eradication of diseased bees and destruction of infected equipment.”

A trained hive-sniffing dog such as Klinker can inspect 100 honeybee colonies in about 45 minutes, far more than humans, who inspect fewer than half that number in a day.

Klinker, who is 18 months old, is the fourth bee dog to serve in the department. In the late 1970s, Maryland became the first state to use dogs to detect disease in honeybee colonies, and it is the only state to keep a full-time “bee dog” on its staff.

(Photo: State of Maryland)


Comment from LuluAndLolly
Time March 17, 2009 at 4:00 pm

WOW! This is truly impressive. Two Paws UP! This is like our pals Ruby ad Pasha who help detect the bed bugs!

Comment from Paul B
Time October 6, 2012 at 8:36 pm

I totally applaud the work of Klinker and the superb work of the dog trainers/handlers and the fact that you bring this to our attention.

However I have to humbly challenge the popular misconception about honeybees that you have just reinforced and perpetuated by putting in Jerry Fischer’s quote as if it is fact. As Mr Fischer’s salary comes from helping the honeybee industry, I wouldn’t expect him to say much else or look any further than his daily work.

The reality is that much of crop pollination is carried out by native bees (yes, honeybees are not native) and there are 400 species in Maryland alone with 4000 documented in the US. There are certain crops like squash and tomatoes where honeybees are actually ineffective. For more information look at Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/Habitat/WildAcres/wabees.asp

If you want a dog angle for a story to rebalance the issue in respect of native bees, it’s worth noting that in general, native bee husbandry poses much fewer risks to dogs as most bees are non-aggressive; half of them possess no stinger (the male bees) and as they do not defend honey and the females work for their own progeny (unlike worker honeybees), raising them for crops or garden fruit trees is an excellent alternative to traditional beekeeping.

Comment from Tom Rathbun
Time April 28, 2014 at 10:01 am

I was wondering when you trained your lab, did you use actual AFB or a synthetic substance that smell like AFB. if so what did you use and where did you get it