Testing a detection dog to locate bumblebee colonies and estimate nest density


Bumblebee nests are difficult to find, hampering ecological studies. Effective population size of bumblebees is determined by nest density, so the ability to quantify nest density would greatly aid conservation work. We describe the training and testing of a dog to find bumblebee nests. The dog was trained by the British army, using B. terrestris nest material. Its efficacy in finding buried nest material of a range of bumblebee species was 100%, and no false positives were recorded, suggesting that the dog was able to generalize across Bombus species. The dog was then used to locate bumblebee nests in four different habitats on the island of Tiree, west Scotland. The dog located 33 nests, and nest densities recorded varied from 0 to 1.86 nests per hectare, according to species and habitat. Habitat preferences appeared to be evident among the bumblebee species, with most B. muscorum nests in machair and all of the B. distinguendus nests being in dunes. We conclude that the technique has great potential, but note that using a dog to detect nests in more densely vegetated habitats may be less successful.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Brooks S.E., Oi F.M., Koehler P.G. (2003) Ability of Canine termite detectors to locate live termites and discriminate them from non-termite material, J. Econ. Entomol. 96, 1259–1266.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Cameron S.A., Hines H.M., Williams P.H. (2007) A comprehensive phylogeny of the bumble bees (Bombus), Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 91, 161–188.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Chapman R.E., Wang J., Bourke A.F.G. (2003) Genetic analysis of spatial foraging patterns and resource sharing in bumble bee pollinators, Mol. Ecol. 12, 2801–2808.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Darvill B., Ellis J.S., Lye G.C., Goulson D. (2006) Population structure and inbreeding in a rare and declining bumblebee, Bombus muscorum (Hymenoptera: Apidae), Mol. Ecol. 15, 601–611.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Darvill B., Knight M.E., Goulson D. (2004) Use of genetic markers to quantify bumblebee foraging range and nest density, Oikos 107, 471–478.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Dematteo K.E., Rinas M.A., Sede M.M., Davenport B., Arguelles C.F., Lovett K., Parker P.G. (2009) Detection Dogs: An Effective Technique for Bush Dog Surveys, J. Wildl. Manage. 73, 1436–1440.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Ellis J.S., Knight M.E., Darvill B., Goulson D. (2006) Extremely low effective population sizes, genetic structuring and reduced genetic diversity in a threatened bumblebee species, Bombus sylvarum (Hymenoptera: Apidae), Mol. Ecol. 15, 4375–4386.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Fussell M., Corbet S.A. (1992) The nesting places of some British bumblebees, J. Apic. Res. 31, 32–41.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Goulson D. (2010) Bumblebees; their behaviour, ecology and conservation, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Goulson D., Hughes W.O.H., Derwent L.C., Stout J.C. (2002) Colony growth of the bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, in improved and conventional agricultural and suburban habitats, Oecologia 130, 267–273.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Goulson D., Lye G.C., Darvill B. (2008) Decline and conservation of bumblebees, Annu. Rev. Entomol. 53, 191–208.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Helton W.S. (2009) Canine ergonomics: the science of working dogs, CRC Press, Boca Raton.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  13. Knight M.E., Martin A.P., Bishop S., Osborne J.L., Hale R.J., Sanderson R.A., Goulson D. (2005) An interspecific comparison of foraging range and nest density of four bumblebee (Bombus) species, Mol. Ecol. 14, 1811–1820.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Kosior A., Celary W., Olejnikzak P., Fijal J., Krol W., Solarz W., Plonka P. (2007) The decline of the bumble bees and cuckoo bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Bombini) of Western and Central Europe, Oryx 41, 79–88.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Long R.A., Donovan T.M., Mackay P., Zielinski W.J., Buzas J.S. (2007) Effectiveness of scat detection dogs for detecting forest carnivores, J. Wildl. Manage. 71, 2007–2017.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Macdonald M., Nisbet G. (2006) Highland bumblebees, Highland Biological Recording Group, Inverness.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Osborne J.L., Martin A.P., Shortall C.R., Todd A.D., Goulson D., Knight M.E., Hale R.J., Sanderson R.A. (2008) Quantifying and comparing bumblebee nest densities in gardens and countryside habitats, J. Appl. Ecol. 45, 784–792.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Sladen F.W.L. (1912) The Humble-bee, its Life History and how to Domesticate it. Including The Humble Bee (1892), Logaston Press, London.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Wallner W.E., Ellis T.L. (1976) Olfactory detection of gypsy moth pheromone and egg masses by domestic canines, J. Econ. Entomol. 5, 563–565.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dave Goulson.

Additional information

Manuscript editor: Peter Rosenkranz

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Waters, J., O’Connor, S., Park, K.J. et al. Testing a detection dog to locate bumblebee colonies and estimate nest density. Apidologie 42, 200–205 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1051/apido/2010056

Download citation


  • nest density
  • nest odour
  • Hebrides
  • Bombus distinguendus
  • Bombus muscorum