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Bees help police catch serial killers

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If you’ve been bingeing Netflix’ serial killers series and you’re worried you might be living next-door to another Jeffrey Dahmer, you need not worry; he or she probably won’t pick you as their next victim, at least according to science and the study of the humble bumblebee.

In order to track down and catch serial killers, police use algorithms created by studying bumblee behaviour.

What’s the link?

Bumblebees and serial killers have something in common, even if you don’t think so: Both prefer to stay close to home and don’t like to share their address. Now, it might be possible to locate the other by studying their routines.

Geography based profiling

Police use a method called geographic profiling (GP) to find repeat offenders.

Two common characteristics are used to narrow the search:

  • The majority of attacks occur within a “buffer zone” that prevents the perpetrator from being recognized or noticed by neighbors
  • Attacks are relatively close to the perpetrator’s residence.

Police aim to identify the buffer zone and prioritize their search in this area by mapping out the locations of crime scenes.

Testing the hypothesis

Nigel Raine and his colleagues from Queen Mary, University of London, UK, wondered if bumblebees, which also leave a buffer zone around their nest to keep predators from finding it, could be used to test the GP model’s efficacy.

Raine states, “You can’t carry out controlled tests of the GP model on serial killers for obvious ethical reasons, but we can test it on bumblebees.”
The biologists set up a bumblebee colony and let them forage in a “meadow” of fake flowers with fake nectar.


The honey bees were labeled and afterward observed as they went between their home and the blossoms.The scientists were able to control how hard the bees had to work to collect the nectar by altering the density of the flowers.
The team discovered that they were able to locate the entrance to the bees’ nest by combining geographical profiling with computer simulations of the bees’ movements. This demonstrated that the police method was successful.
The researchers claim to have additionally discovered ways to enhance the profiling method. They have observed a variety of foraging behaviors among the bees that could be used to improve the accuracy of the technique and refine the police’s algorithms.
David Slope from the College of Sussex, Brighton, UK, says the framework could assist with finding more pleasing animals as well.

Although “woodland species with multiple, shifting roosts could present much more of a challenge,” he believes it could be used to locate and protect the homes of species like bats.

Referencing the journal:The Royal Society Interface Journal (DOI:10.1098/rsif.2008.0242)

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