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Title: Six legged soldiers

item Weber, Donald

Submitted to: American Entomologist
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/3/2009
Publication Date: 7/1/2010
Citation: Weber, D.C. 2010. Six legged soldiers. American Entomologist. 56(2):125-126.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Jeffrey Lockwood has written a fascinating if at times depressing exploration of the role of insects in warfare. Dr. Lockwood reviews the martial use of insects, starting with stinging bees and wasps, which were in ancient and Medieval times widely used in war to induce panic among enemy soldiers. In the massive human movements and social upheaval of war, insect-vectored disease has frequently played an important role; although this was not understood until the 20th century, associations of disease with wetland habitats were used in military strategy. The most terrifying military applications of insects involved the use by the Japanese of fleas with plague, and houseflies with cholera, to initiate disease outbreaks which killed hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians during World War II. Insects can be used against the enemy’s agriculture; among the few examples are research programs by France and Germany during World War II using the Colorado potato beetle, but it is not clear that any beetle bombs were ever discharged. During the Cold War, claims and counter-claims were increasingly difficult to evaluate, though both the US and the USSR had clandestine biological weapons research which included some entomological components. Currently, insects are being developed as sensors for explosives and other hazards. Lessons from biomechanics of insect movement, particularly flight, are being applied to create mini-drones for surveillance or espionage. Lockwood describes some potential future uses of insects in war and terrorism. The author argues convincingly that general improvements in public health capacity are likely to be more valuable than preparations for specific scenarios. “Six-legged Soldiers” is well worth reading, a unique and lively compendium of uses to which insects have been used to fight human battles.