Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War

Article excerpt

SIX-LEGGED SOLDIERS: Using Insects as Weapons of War, Jeffrey A. Lockwood, Oxford University Press, New York, 2008, 377 pages, $27.95.

Bees trained to locate landmines? Housefly-sized spybots? Insects are the villains and heroes of the past and future in this intriguing history of the use of insects in warfare. Relevant, engaging, and at times humorous, Lockwood not only shows how six-legged soldiers have been used in past conflicts but provides his readers with a fascinating look at their future employment. In the process of demonstrating how our military might leverage insects as offensive and defensive weapons, Lockwood also points out America's current vulnerability to bioterrorism and exhorts the government to take action.

Stinging insects have always been our nemeses, and Lockwood shows how tacticians throughout the ages have used them in creative ways. The Tiv people of Nigeria developed a bee cannon--a long horn that could be filled with bees or wasps and then released in the direction of the enemy. The Mayans constructed mannequins and filled them with bees and left them for the enemy to play with or break open (think Trojan Pinata). Lockwood surmises that the Mayans may have even developed bee grenades--pottery filled with bees that could be thrown at their enemies.

Lockwood examines some interesting insect characteristics that scientists are attempting either to mimic or to exploit for both peaceful and violent means. A couple of noteworthy examples are bees that can be trained to smell individual landmines (this would be particularly useful in countries like Mozambique where much of the farmable land is still unusable due to landmines), and beetles that can sense heat sources at a distance of 40 miles. Scientists are modeling the locomotion of cockroaches to develop robots (and potentially vehicles) that can traverse uneven surfaces at greater speeds. …