We all know how frightening wars can be. There’s a standard picture we all paint of it: soldiers dressed in uniforms wielding their mechanized weapons against the enemy, ready to defend their country. But, that isn’t always the case. There have been many instances in history wherein wars were fought with biological weapons; viruses, bacteria, and even fungi have played a large role in the destruction of others. But how, exactly, did these creatures – easily solvable by simple pest control measures – come to cause so much harm?
What is Entomological Warfare?
Entomological warfare, or EW for short, is a type of biological warfare that utilizes insects against the enemy. It is a concept that has existed since the ancient times and it has been studied and used by various countries, with the USA, Japan, and Germany as some of the most prominent EW users.
There are two varieties of EW: the first is done by infecting insects with a deadly virus or bacteria and then sending them over the target areas like the enemy’s main headquarters or residential areas. There, the insects then infect the people by biting and transferring the bacteria into their system. The second is done with the usage of insects to attack crops. They may not be infected with any disease, but they still definitely pose a threat to the agriculture and livelihood of their victims as they consume their food resources.
The earliest known use of entomological warfare was from the Ancient Romans. The legions were infamous for throwing beehives in enemy towns and fortresses via catapult. It was not a deadly weapon but the angered bees would sting at people and animals, distracting them, providing the Romans enough time to break the barriers and charge in. This tactic was eventually copied by the Dacia natives during their war with Rome and by King Richard during the Third Crusade. Some historians also think that the Black Death, one of the worst pandemics in human history, was a form of entomological warfare that started in Asia Minor before spreading to Europe.
Which kinds of insects were used for Entomological Warfare?
The following insects were used for EW:
- Harlequin Bugs – During the American civil war, the harlequin bug suddenly appeared in the southern states and devoured crops like cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, and potatoes in the region. The secession states believed that the confederate states sent spies to plant the insects to further cripple their economy. However, there were no written records about the confederate states sending the harlequin bugs in the south, hinting that the insects probably migrated on their own from Mexico.
- Plague Fleas – Plague fleas are known carriers of diseases like typhus and the deadly Bubonic plague. They have been used by the Mongols during their siege in Kaffa. Six centuries later, the Japanese used these fleas during their attack in China. The Japanese used low-flying airplanes then dropped bombs containing flies and fleas infected with cholera. An epidemic resulted and 500,000 Chinese died.
- Mosquitoes – There were records that showed Nazi scientists exploring the idea of using mosquitoes as war weapons but it was not known if they pushed through with the concept. However, the USA established a secret facility in the 1950s where they infected mosquitoes with the yellow fever virus. These operations were dubbed Drop Kick and Big Itch.
Lucky for us living in the modern times, entomological warfare is a thing of the past. We now also have vastly improved pest control measures, ready to take on any blight that may come in the future.