We Have Met the Enemy And They Are Small – A Brief History of Bug Warfare

Kaffa fell in 1346 after the Mongols hurled plague-infected corpses into the city. The bodies were infested with disease-carrying fleas -- an early example of Entomological Warfare.

Kaffa fell in 1346 after Mongol invaders hurled plague-infected corpses into the city. The bodies were infested with disease-carrying fleas — an early example of entomological warfare.

National Geographic reported last week that biologists from the University of Tübingen in Germany have uncovered evidence that the Nazis may have tested malaria-carrying mosquitoes for possible use against the Allies.

According to the article, which is available here, inhuman experiments involving disease-carrying insects are known to have been conducted by SS scientists on inmates at Dachau concentration camp. But the purpose of the tests are still far from clear. Were the bugs being bred for use against enemy troops or civilian populations or were researchers simply looking for cures for insect-borne pathogens? The historians reached by the magazine are reluctant to draw any solid conclusions, largely because records related to Axis medical research are believed to have been lost in the final days of the Third Reich. And although the Nazi’s own chief entomology researcher, Eduard May, might have been able to provide insight into the programs, he died in 1956.

“The idea to grow malaria-laden mosquitoes and drop them on people is not very well documented other than by [referenced to the] words ‘growing station’ and ‘airdropping site,'” a German researcher told National Geographic.

But while the jury is still out as to the existence of a Nazi mosquito warfare scheme, other bugs are known to have been ‘weaponized’ at one time or another throughout history. Consider theses species:

‘Killer’ Bees Perhaps the earliest known example of entomological warfare (the use of bugs in combat) comes to us from the ancient Romans. According to a MHN article from 2012, Caesar’s legions were known to hurl beehives into enemy towns and fortresses via catapult during long sieges – not a lethal weapon for the most part, but certainly nasty to anyone on the receiving end of one of the bee bombs. Later, the Dacians of southeastern Europe mimicked the tactic in their own 2nd Century war with Rome, as did King Richard during the Third Crusade in the 12th Century.[1]

Did Yankee spies smuggle crop eating harlequin bugs into the Confederate states? Probably not.

Did Yankee spies smuggle crop eating harlequin bugs into the Confederate states? Probably not.

Harlequin Bugs – The last thing the war-ravaged Confederacy needed in 1863 was an invasive species that wiped out acres of precious crops. But that’s just what happened when the dreaded harlequin bug suddenly arrived in the southern states. The oval shaped, half-inch wide, red and black speckled beetles devoured leafy crops like cabbage, collards, cauliflower, tomatoes and potatoes throughout the region. Authorities in the Secession States blamed the infestation on the North, believing that Yankee agents deliberately introduced the insects as part of a conspiracy to further cripple the rebel economy. Despite these claims, no records exist of any Union harlequin bug plot; it’s likely the species migrated on their own from Mexico. [2]

Both the Allies and Axis considered drafting Colorado Potato Beetles into the war effort.

Both the Allies and Axis considered drafting Colorado Potato Beetles into the war effort.

Beetle Mania – Also known as the “ten-striped spearman” this little critter was indigenous to the United States, until the 19th century when it was accidentally introduced into Central Europe. The 0.4-inch (10 mm) insect flourished in Germany where it fed on potato, eggplant and even tomato crops. Largely eradicated after the First World War by pesticides, Nazi researchers bred the insect in controlled facilities during World War Two for possible use on Allied agriculture. More than 50,000 specimens were released by the German military near Frankfurt as part of test in 1943.[3] The following year, the region was infested with them. Had the beetles not gotten loose during testing, Germany’s enemy France would have been only too happy to unleash the pest onto the Third Reich. As far back as 1939, the French military was breeding Colorado potato beetles for use against the Nazis.[4] Britain too experimented with the species ordering as many as 12,000 from the United States in 1942.[5] Despite all of the tests, neither the Allies nor the Axis ever deployed the insect as a weapon.

One of Japan's 'flea bombs'. Weapons like this were dropped on China contributing to a plague outbreak that killed as many as a half-million civilians.

One of Japan’s ‘flea bombs’. Weapons like this were dropped on China contributing to a plague outbreak that killed as many as a half-million civilians.

Plague Fleas — It’s too bad the same couldn’t be said for the common flea. Known carriers of diseases like typhus and even the bubonic plague, fleas have been weaponized on a number of occasions over the centuries. During the Mongol siege of the Crimean city of Kaffa in 1346, the Asiatic invaders used trebuchets to lob the bodies of plague victims into the city. Although the Mongols were likely unaware exactly how the disease was communicated, fleas still feeding on the corpses quickly sought out fresh hosts and spread the disease among the defenders. Soon, the Black Death had decimated the inhabitants and Kaffa fell. Historians believe that refugees from the region fled to Europe, unwittingly bringing the plague fleas with them. The migration is blamed for touching off a pandemic that eventually killed more than a third of the continent’s population. Six hundred years later, Japan drafted the lowly flea into its military arsenal, and with disastrous results. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, the infamous biological warfare division, Unit 731, studied using fleas as a delivery system (or “vector”) for everything from cholera to the bubonic plague. After testing the lethal potential of disease carrying pests on hundreds of captured human subjects at its top-secret facility in Manchuria, Unit 731, distributed the tiny invaders by the millions throughout China via areal bombs. Soon, special flea producing facilities were established that could produce hundreds of millions of the creatures each week.[6] It’s estimated that as many as a half-million Chinese died from the plague that followed the fleas’ release. [7] The Japanese military even attempted to deploy plague fleas against U.S. troops landing on Saipan. The unit that was tasked with unleashing them was lost along with their deadly cargo when an American submarine torpedoed the vessel in which they were travelling.

Mosquitoes – While the Nazis may have explored the feasibility of weaponizing disease-carrying mosquitoes, it’s a matter of historical fact that the United States did. During the 1950s, the U.S. military established a top secret entomological warfare facility that could produce more than 100 million mosquitoes infused with yellow fever in a matter of days.[8] A well-known tropical disease, the infection produces flu-like symptoms, bloody vomiting, jaundice and in some cases death. To evaluate the effectiveness of mosquitoes as a weapon, the military launched a series of tests right up into the mid-1960s in which millions of uninfected specimens were secretly released via specially designed munitions near or on top of civilian areas in Georgia and Florida. These operations, dubbed Magic Sword, Drop Kick, Big Buzz and Big Itch, studied the survivability of bomb-delivered mosquitos as well as their proliferation over a given area. It’s unclear if any of these “bug bombs” were ever used in combat. Later, as part of its war on the international narcotics trade, the Pentagon spent millions studying leaf-eating caterpillars and other pests that could devour both South American coco fields and Taliban poppy crops.

SOURCES
http://www.beekeeping.com/articles/us/war_bees.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entomological_warfare
http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/veg/leaf/harlequin_bug.HTM
http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/8/9/01-0536_article.htm
http://entomology.montana.edu/historybug/insects_as_bioweapons.htm
http://people.uwec.edu/piercech/bio/Japanese%20Bioterror.htm

 

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