You know those K-9 units? They are police units which include at least one highly trained canine helper. They rely on the intelligence and loyalty of well-trained dogs, but also on the fact that dogs have a sense of smell 100,000 to 1,000,000 times stronger than that of a humans.
We humans rely most heavily on our eyesight for our perception of the world, and it biases everything. Canines, on the other hand, are much more dependent on their sense of smell. They interpret the world as a host of chemical and volatile cues, most of which we are completely unable to perceive. In this way, they are very similar to wasps.
Wasps perceive and understand the world as a set of chemical cues, which they receive through their sensitive antennae. Wasps like Cerceris fumipennis, a solitary wasp of the Crabronid family. Taxonomy nerd out for you here: the Crabronids are in the superfamily Apoidea, to which your familiar honeybee also belongs. In other words, these wasps are more closely related to bees than to your standard yellow jacket or paper wasp (or other common stinging wasps) which belong to the superfamily Vespoidea.
But I digress.
This species (Cerceris fumipennis) is now being used as a ‘biosurveillance’, to detect invasive beetles known as Emerald Ash Borers (Agrilus planipennis), an invasive pest that has done an incredible amount of damage to eastern US Ash trees. That’s right, we are now using wasps to sniff out contraband (infected) ash wood to prevent the spread of the beetle.
Is that cool or what? Check out this website for a handy pdf of how to use your own watchdog wasp.