From “Bee Bombs” to Battle=ready Beetles: A History of Insects as Weapons

March 18th, 2009 - by admin

Jeffrey A Lockwood / Oxford University Press – 2009-03-18 21:08:57

Six-legged Soldiers:
Using Insects as Weapons of War

by Jeffrey A Lockwood / Oxford University Press
Hardcover: 400 pages. ISBN-10: 0195333055

The emir of Bukhara used assassin bugs to eat away the flesh of his prisoners. General Ishii Shiro during World War II released hundreds of millions of infected insects across China, ultimately causing more deaths than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan.

These are just two of many startling examples found in Six-legged Soldiers, a brilliant portrait of the many weirdly creative, truly frightening, and ultimately powerful ways in which insects have been used as weapons of war, terror, and torture.

Beginning in prehistoric times and building toward a near and disturbing future, the reader is taken on a journey of innovation and depravity. Award-winning science writer Jeffrey A. Lockwood begins with the development of “bee bombs” in the ancient world and explores the role of insect-borne disease in changing the course of major battles, ranging from Napoleon’s military campaigns to the trenches of World War I.

He explores the horrific programs of insect warfare during World War II: airplanes dropping plague-infested fleas, facilities rearing tens of millions of hungry beetles to destroy crops, and prison camps staffed by doctors testing disease-carrying lice on inmates.

The Cold War saw secret government operations involving the mass release of specially developed strains of mosquitoes on an unsuspecting American public–along with the alleged use of disease-carrying and crop-eating pests against North Korea and Cuba. Lockwood reveals how easy it would be to use of insects in warfare and terrorism today: In 1989, domestic eco-terrorists extorted government officials and wreaked economic and political havoc by threatening to release the notorious Medfly into California’s crops.

A remarkable story of human ingenuity–and brutality—Six-legged Soldiers is the first comprehensive look at the use of insects as weapons of war, from ancient times to the present day.

From Publishers Weekly
Few people think of flies, scorpions or potato bugs as weapons of war, but entomologist Lockwood (Grasshopper Dreaming), winner of a Pushcart Prize and a James Burroughs Award, details in this fascinating study how creepy crawlies have been used against the enemy since antiquity.

The Romans’ siege of a desert fortress ended abruptly when buckets of scorpions were dumped on their heads. Many a medieval army catapulted beehives or hornets’ nests over a castle’s ramparts to drive out the defenders. The Vietcong used a version of this trick, setting off small explosives near huge beehives when American soldiers walked by.

Lockwood tells how the Japanese used Chinese civilians as human guinea pigs in their program to weaponize plague and other diseases. And Lockwood explores charges by the North Koreans and Fidel Castro that America has called out insect troops on occasion as well. Fortunately, as the author points out, insects aren’t very cooperative soldiers, and using them to deliver diseases is much easier said than done.

Both science and military history buffs will learn much from Lockwood, a self-described skeptic with a sense of humor.

© Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved


• It’s a delightfully gory book. [Lockwood] writes with vigour and clarity, making the book very accessible.
— Joanna Bourne /The Times:
• Lockwood has produced an engaging work.
— Robin McKie / The Observer
• ‘Six-legged Soldiers‘ exposes convincingly the likely devastating impact. An infectious, haunting read.
— Emmanuelle Smith / Financial Times
• It’s a delightfully gory book.
— James Delingpole / Irish Mail
• ‘Six Legged Soldiers’ is an excellent account of the effect that anthropod-borne diseases have had on warefare.
— Kenneth J. Lithicum, Nature.
• “Six-legged Soldiers is a fascinating account of the many ways that scientists and military strategists have used insects to torture, starve, and kill targets.”
— ScienceNews
• “Six-legged Soldiers is an excellent account of the affect arthropod-borne diseases have had on warfare…This book will inspire readers to understand…threats and prepare new methods to combat them.”
— Nature, November 2008
• “Both science and military history buffs will learn much from Lockwood, a self-described skeptic with a sense of humor.”
— Publisher’s Weekly, Oct. 2008
• “An infectious, haunting read.”
— The Financial Times
• “Lockwood thoroughly and objectively assembles an engaging chronicle on a topic for which official documentation is often sparse and the opportunity for propaganda is rife.”
— Science News

Insects as Warriors

For decades, countries including Canada have been working on ways to use insects as instruments of war … most often as a way to spread disease. Jeffrey Lockwood has documented that disturbing history in his new book, “Six Legged Soldiers”

• Listen to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp Podcast.