The two-year-old German shorthaired pointer "is not afraid of a challenge," according to his owner Jacqueline Staab

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Darwin the Bee Dog
Credit: Courtesy Darwin the Bee Dog

A two-year-old German shorthaired pointer is helping a researcher save bees in the United States one nest at a time.

Meet Darwin, the first conservation dog in the country that specializes in locating underground bumblebee nests.

"Darwin is not afraid of a challenge," his owner Jacqueline Staab, a bee researcher with Appalachian State University in North Carolina, told 9News. "He's ready to go, and we're going to find them all."

Finding nests can be difficult for humans. Staab said she experimented with several other detection methods before learning about bee-seeking dogs through a 2011 scientific paper that detailed how the military in Great Britain trained a dog to sniff out bee nests. 

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For Stabb, the first step to getting her own bee-sniffing canine was finding a dog with the proper temperament.

Staab told the Watauga Democrat that she ultimately decided on the German shorthaired pointer for their hunting skills. Darwin, in particular, is from a family of detection dogs, one of which is a cadaver dog with the New York City Police Department.

Then came training, which Darwin began at six months of age. Staab said it was difficult to locate a trainer willing to help her with her special request.

"I called a bunch of people, and they were like, 'What? I'll get back to you never. Bumblebees, are you crazy?' " she told 9News.

Eventually, Staab found Highland K-9 in Harmony, North Carolina, which helped her pup master the art of bee detection. Darwin recently joined Staab on a trip to Colorado to study the bees residing around Park County's mountains and to show off his bee detection skills for the first time.

Courtesy Darwin the Bee Dog
Credit: Courtesy Darwin the Bee Dog

According to Staab, as pollinators, bees have an "intrinsic value" to ecosystems nationwide — especially at higher altitudes.

"Obviously, there's going to be cascading ecological effects if we lose keystone pollinators in any environment, much less the alpine," she added of the insects, which help contribute billions of dollars to the U.S. economy each year.

Once Darwin discovers a nest, he alerts Staab to the location, after which his owner records as much data as she can. Watching Darwin do his special job, she said, "is a beautiful thing."

It is hard work, but the young pup has a ball.

"Working with Darwin is really cool because he's always super motivated, super positive, ready to go," Staab told 9News.

You can learn more about Darwin, Staab, and their mission on their website.