All is fair in love and war—even if it means getting insects to do your dirty work. This is known as entomological warfare, and it’s hardly a new concept. Cue in the ancient Romans launching beehives at their enemies. But as science expands, so do all the ways that a mere six-legged critter could be the one to level out the playing field. From spreading disease to sniffing out landmines and even illegal drugs, here are five of the strangest attempts at weaponizing insects.
1. Sniffer Bees That Sniff Out Landmines
This isn’t just the work of science fiction, it’s a real thing. These special strains of bees were bred by Croatian biologists and beekeepers over the course of three years, all in an effort to get rid of the buried landmines that cover more than 684 square miles of Croatian territory. These were the remnants of landmines that were planted and left untouched during the Croatian War of Independence. Using dogs or humans is too dangerous, so here comes the special bees with a sense of smell that can spot landmines from as far as three miles away.
2. DARPA’s Cyber Bug Project
So DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Association) is basically a super top secret research department of the US Army where they study all sorts of cool technologies such as neurological science, futuristic guns and even robotics. One such project sounds like something straight out of a movie. Controlling the movement of an insect by inserting metal electrodes into different body parts such as the brain and various muscles. They’re also fitted with a “bug-backpack” that allows the human controller to send and receive radio signals, even cameras and microphones, making these bugs the perfect spies for reconnaissance missions.
3. Sniffer Bees That Detect Narcotics
We already know that bees can be trained to sniff out certain scents like explosives, for instance. Their sense of smell is comparable to that of sniffer dogs and their tiny size makes them the perfect agent to bust any illegal narcotics operations. Training them is surprisingly easy, as bees respond similarly to the same kind of conditional training that sniffer dogs are exposed to. And according to studies, bees are able to differentiate the scents of different substances. This means that one day, bees will become the new sniffer dogs.
4. Operation Big Itch
Fleas, along with mosquitoes, are vectors that can carry deadly pathogens that are capable of decimating large populations. That’s why in September of 1954, the US government set out to test whether it was possible for fleas to survive being dropped on their target bombs. So they did just that, and despite the few hiccups in the beginning, the majority of the fleas did in fact make it and were even able to latch on the guinea pigs. Of course, uninfected fleas were used and they were dropped over a testing ground in Utah.
5. Operation Drop Kick
After testing out the fleas, the US Army shifted their attention to mosquitoes in an attempt to study spread patterns, bite intensity and cost per death. So between April and November 1953, the army released the mosquitoes via airplanes into a residential area in Savannah, Georgia, using parachute assisted paper bags designed to open upon touching the ground. Then they released over 600,000 yellow fever mosquitoes over the Avon air base area. Although the mosquitoes were said to be uninfected, there were reports of at least seven deaths of both dengue fever and yellow fever in that area.
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