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Bee-52 bomber; FROM ancient times, humans have been on the lookout for better ways to wage war on each other. And we've learned to recruit small soldiers to fight our battles - insects. Here, Brian McIver takes a look at the use of bugs in our armouries over the centuries.

Byline: Brian McIver

BEE BOMBS

THE Mayans cottoned on to the fact that an angry swarm was a battle winner in 2600BC.

The sacred text of the Mayan civilisation, which flourished before Columbus landed in the Americas, tells of dummy warriors topped with headdresses to conceal their real purpose.

When the enemy went to investigate, they were in for a shock - the heads were hollow and filled with stinging insects.

Thousands of years earlier, when our ancestors lived in caves, they were prime targets for the bee bomb - a hurled hive of bees.

The problem with heaving a bee hive was that the insects would attack friend and foe alike.

But when an enemy was holed up, they would bear the brunt of an attack.

An angry swarm might even break a siege and drive a frantic enemy into the open.

THE BIBLICAL PLAGUES

The plagues that struck ancient Egypt are vividly described in the Book of Exodus and included insects.

God kicked them off with what some scientists reckon was a microbial bloom, turning the Nile blood red.

They believe these dinoflagellates were responsible for snuffing out nearly all other aquatic life.

The plague of frogs that followed may have been the result if the amphibians beating a hasty exit from their toxic habitat.

The third plague was probably an outbreak of biting insects from the rich, moist soil along the riverbanks.

Then there was the swarms of flies. Some insect experts (entomologists) think that these flies arose from the rotting vegetation laced with decomposing fish that had accumulated along the banks.

The most likely candidate is the stable fly, which delivers painful bites. Their populations increase rapidly when the larvae have an abundance of filth to eat.

INSECT TOXIN AS POISON

The earliest use of insect toxins was in the tips of deadly spears, arrows and darts.

Various tribes in Africa use different poisons to make their weapons more lethal. In the northern Kalahari the most common use of toxin is a beetle.

Native people used their home-made "stings" in hunting until the arrival of the Dutch and French in the 17th century.

Then accounts tell of them using poisoned projectiles in warfare, probably beetle-tainted arrows.

INSECT TORTURE

According to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Soviet gulag prisoners were tormented by being locked into closets swarming with hungry bed bugs.

And the Apache Indians apparently used ants to ensure lingering painful death.

Even the CIA intended to use insects as part of a strategy to extract information.

A 2002 justice department memo ruled that exploiting a captive's entomophobia (irrational fear of insects) did not constitute torture.

INSECT GERM WARFARE

The Ark of the Covenant may have had an army of small protectors. The historian Adrian Meyer has suggested that this sacred chest might have been guarded by plague-infected fleas.

BATTLEFIELD INSECTS

Insects have carried disease on to the battlefield for more than 2000 years.

During the Peloponnesian War in 429BC, flea-infested rats on Greek warships brought plague from Ethiopia and hastened the collapse of the Athenian State.

WORLD WAR I INSECT BATTLES

During the Great War, soldiers on the Eastern Front found a way to use insects as a way to escape the horrors of everyday life. They horrors of everyday life. They collected Paederus beetles, which have a potent toxin. They pulverised the beetles and applied the powder to minor wounds.

The severe inflammation indicated a raging infection, assuring the victim a medical ticket to the rear.

GERMS IN WORLD WAR II

Japanese general Ishii Shiro was in charge of Unit 731, charged with finding a microbe and a means of delivery that would constitute a lethal weapon system.

At peak production the Japanese could produce more than half a billion plague-infected fleas a year and tested them on Chinese prisoners and Allied POWs.

In the summer of 1940, plague broke out in the city of Xinjing following what may have been the first attack using flea-charged bombs.

Over the next two years Unit 731 would attack more than a dozen villages, towns and cities, causing more than 100,000 casualties.

Next was cholera, and the greatest military success in modern annals of entomological warfare. On May 4, 1942, a wave of Japanese bombers descended on the city of Baoshan, delivering Yagi, the maggot bomb.

By June, 60,000 city refugees had died. The final tally reached 200,000 victims.

In 1943, the ploy was duplicated in the northern province of Shandong. The death toll from the maggot bombs in China was 410,000.

Flies and microbes took as many lives as atomic bombs took in Japan.

As a result of Unit 731, a total of 580,000 Chinese were killed.

Six-Legged Soldiers by Jeffrey A Lockwood, from Oxford University Press, pounds 9.99

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DEADLY: Bees have been used to strike at enemies
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 26, 2010
Words:805
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