TV channel looks at pestilent warfare

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November 18, 2019

The assassin bug. IMAGE: KARLA SALP, WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, BUGWOOD.ORG

The assassin bug. IMAGE: KARLA SALP, WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, BUGWOOD.ORG

Ostensibly as a way to promote a new season of “Kings of Pain,” a TV series about a wildlife biologist and an animal handler as they get bitten and stung by a variety of animals from around the world, HISTORY (what you and I know as the History Channel) recently compiled an online article titled “Bugs of War: How Insects Have Been Weaponized Throughout History.”

The article is well worth the read, as it covers everything from Biblical hornets to the bioterrorism threat in 1989 of California medflies. Other highlights include:

  • In the late 100s, the Roman military retreated after Mesopotamian troops tossing “earthenware bombshells loaded with scorpions” over their fort walls.
  • In the 1300s, “a windmill-like device that propelled straw hives from the ends of the rapidly rotating arms,” in the manner of a Gatling gun, heaved bees onto the decks of an enemy ship.
  • In the 1800s in present-day Uzbekistan, the “Bug Pit” was a 21-foot-deep hole lined with assassin bugs (Reduviidae), also in the same family as kissing bugs, and sheep ticks (Ixodes ricinus), also known as castor bean ticks. Royal prisoners were literally eaten alive in the pit, which was covered with an iron grate. (shudders)
  • During the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong used wasps, hornets and Asian giant honeybees (Apis dorsata) as part of their guerrilla warfare tactics.

Beyond the HISTORY article, you can go into a deeper rabbit hole merely by searching online for “entomological warfare.” There, all sorts of interesting stories await — many of them rounded up on a Wikipedia page on the matter (and yes, since I’m “crawling the web” here, Wikipedia’s fair game!). The blanket term, as defined by the page, covers three concepts:

  1. Infecting insects with a pathogen and then dispersing the insects over target areas. The insects then act as a vector, infecting any person or animal they might bite.
  2. Directly attacking crops; the insect may not be infected with any pathogen but instead represents a threat to agriculture.
  3. Using uninfected insects, such as bees, to directly attack the enemy.

We think of the pest management profession as being warriors protecting public health, and rightfully so. These stories serve as a reminder of just how dangerous some of these tiny insects can be.

About the Author

Heather Gooch

Heather Gooch is the editor-in-chief for PMP magazine. She can be reached at hgooch@northcoastmedia.net or 330-321-9754.

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