REMINDER: The #1 thing you can do to support the site is share the articles!
by Rori Lynn
Mankind has been weaponizing nature since we first learned to affix sharpened rocks to sticks and play Stabby Stabby with rival tribes. Or later when we trained horses to carry us into battle without, like, freaking the hell out. Humanity’s collective use and abuse of our landscapes, natural resources, and animal friends has, throughout the ages, been ingenious, sophisticated, and often deadly.
And sometimes really, really crazy.
Nazis Attempted To Halt Allied Forces By Creating A Malaria Epidemic
The year was 1943, and the Nazis had a problem. To be frank, they had a lot of problems, but this one involved Allied forces nearing Rome, which was problematic for reasons involving military strategy that we don’t begin to understand. Basically, it wasn’t good. Well, it was, just not for the Nazis.
But German entomologist and (probably) creepy-ass bug guy Erich Martini, came up with a plan: They’d flood the marshes that the Allied troops had to cross to get to their destination, then fill the place with mosquitoes. Like, a lot of mosquitoes. Oh, and they happened to be of the malaria-carrying variety.
Not just the normal, annoying, blood-sucking variety.
The thing is, the plan, however crafty and resourceful, didn’t quite work as the Nazis intended. Allied soldiers had actually been vaccinated against malaria, making the mosquitoes largely harmless but surely super annoying. Unfortunately, a good chunk of Italian civilians weren’t nearly as fortunate. Almost one quarter of the population in the immediate vicinity reportedly contracted the disease, and some suspect it could have been more than that.
Malaria continued to be a problem for the people in that region for another seven years, until they were finally able to remove all the water, effectively getting rid of the mosquitoes. So, much like World War II itself, things didn’t go according to plan and a bunch of innocent people lost their lives as a result. It’s almost as if every new thing we learn about the Nazis is terrible.
And it is, because they are.
Several Cultures Used Bees As Actual Weapons
It often seems like war has resulted in almost every major innovation throughout history. And when it hasn’t, the innovations were somehow used in warfare. It’s like humanity not only wants to be constantly involved in violent conflict, but is also obsessed with finding the most creative ways to do so.
But before modern technology with its bombs and remote-controlled murder planes, people had to get pretty crafty when trying to figure out how to inflict maximum damage without access to things like targeted explosive devices. One method used to try to slow down or incapacitate opponents was actually quite brilliant in its simplicity: bees.
This method of entomological warfare involved using stinging or biting insects as a direct weapon, like if your defense against a robbery attempt was climbing up a tree and kicking down a hornet nest onto your assailants. During wartime, however, the concept was way more badass. Imagine one of those medieval battle scenes where a ballista is being used to launch some flaming caskets of oil over a castle wall, except instead of a combustible projectile, it’s a beehive.
In the 2nd century A.D., the Romans were trying to be sneaky and actually tunnel under the Greek city of Themiscrya, but instead of finding an ambush consisting of heavily armed Amazons they were met by a bunch of wild animals and angry, sting-happy bees. The same thing happened to the Romans’ sapper tunnels during the Third Mithridatic War.
And here we get all panicky if we find a single bee in our car while driving -- imagine being in the middle of a war zone and getting attacked by thousands.
Pigs Were The Perfect Counter To War Elephants
If Dumbo is to be believed, we know two things to be true: First, an elephant’s ears can be large enough to make it capable of flight. The second is that they are absolutely terrified of mice.
We don’t know how scientifically accurate that movie is, but we do know that war elephants were a fairly common thing for many ancient armies. The enormous animals are able to take a great deal of damage, as well as dish it out. Soldiers riding horseback had little chance against men perched upon 10,000 pound elephants outfitted with big, dangerous tusks that could impale a man like a wedge of cheese on a toothpick.
The Romans of the 4th century didn’t like the disadvantage they had against the mighty creatures, so they did what any besieged-yet-logical army would do: They unleashed a bunch of pigs onto the battlefield to terrorize and panic the multi-ton war beasts. As it turns out, elephants don’t much care for the grunting and squealing of pigs, and react much in the same way cartoon elephants do to mice.
“Is that a mouse or a pig? Doesn’t matter — RUN!”
Some of the poor swine, charmingly referred to as “incendiary pigs,” were tarred, set on fire, and let loose to haul ass toward the elephants in a grunting, fiery mob, which caused the elephants to retreat in panic, effectively turning them into weapons for the Romans. Because if a grunting pig is already terrifying, a grunting pig on fire is a horror movie come to life.
This tactic didn’t work forever, since later trainers quickly learned to keep their young elephants in enclosures alongside baby pigs, resulting in future generations that were unafraid of even the most flaming swine.
Persians Brought Along A Bunch Of Cats To Defeat The Egyptians
Everyone knows that the ancient Egyptians had a bit of a thing for cats. Depicted in their murals, hieroglyphs, and mummified in the tombs of some of history’s greatest known Pharaohs, cats were considered gods, and were revered as such, pampered in life and honored in death rituals.
Egyptian culture, while respecting all living things, had a particular relationship with cats, which is pretty obvious if you’re even passingly familiar with Egyptian art. This relationship was probably best defined, however, by the Battle of Pelusium of 525 BCE, which was pretty important since it resulted in Persia conquering Egypt.
And it was a battle that the Persians won because Egyptians absolutely refused to kill cats.
Why would they? Come on.
Some are pretty sure that the Persians would have won anyway since they were more experienced with the whole war thing, but there’s no question that a very specific tactic played a key role in victory: arming themselves with makeshift cat-shields.
The Persian King Cambyses II knew about Egyptian cat-love, so he marched his men out there carrying cats in front of them like feline bucklers. And because the Egyptian soldiers were absolutely terrified of harming the cats, they wouldn’t fight back, fearing their literal souls were at risk if so much as a whisker was harmed.
It’s now considered one of the very first uses of psychological warfare. And we have to admit, even if you don’t worship cute kittens as gods, seeing a group of murderous soldiers running at you screaming with a sword in one hand and a cat in the other would be pretty unsettling.
Like this article? Check out “5 Surprising Ways Humans Influenced The Evolution Of Other Living Things” and “5 People Who Caused Massive Damage For Stupid Reasons”.
Want to write for The Modern Rogue? You can! Just sign up for our writers’ workshop.