Student Edition - 2002 revision



"...the arms are fair when the intent for bearing them is just."

Shakespeare - Henry IV


Insects in Warfare: A long history > 10,000 years.

Historically, Social Insects (Hymenoptera) have been the most frequently used insect "weapons" and for more than biological reasons - anthropomorphic causes as well.

Biblical Accounts - Old Testament

EXODUS 23: 28

"And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, Canaanite, the Hittite, from before thee."

DEUT. 7: 20

"Moreover the Lord Thy God will sent the hornet among them until they that are left, and hide themselves from thee, be destroyed."

JOSH. 24:12

"And I sent the hornet before you, which drave them out from before you, even the two kings of the Amorites; but not with thy sword nor with thy bow."

Taxonomy of Insect Weapons:

Order: HYMENOPTERA (membranous - wing)

Wasps, Ants & Bees - the STINGING insects

The most feared of all insect taxa and cause of most entomophobia among humans.

Hymenoptera VENOMS:


Wasps & Ants = food gathering & defense

Bees = defense {bees evolved from wasps}


Complex with large inter-generic differences. Mostly proteinaceous, but not always.

ALGOGENIC (Greek algos = pain : genic = to produce)

Qualifications of Social Hymenoptera as Weapons:

1. Social - lots of insects in a compact space (the nest) - a potential "missile"

{Lots = several thousands (the original "cluster bomb")}

2. Compact Nests of social paper wasps (& bees) "easily" located, stored and transported.) Usually in crockery vessels.

The Paper Wasps: (to be looked at again)

Hornet - Wasp - Yellow Jacket : What's the difference? (not much!!)

True Hornets: Genus Vespa - the giant hornets - indigenous to the Middle East and Asia (one species in Europe)

Dolichovespula (the "American" hornet)

Vespula (the prototypical yellow jacket)

In North America all social paper wasps possess an Annual Life Cycle

Honey Bees As Weapons:

U.S. CIVIL WAR - or "How We Almost Became Two Countries with help from Apis"

Battle of ANTIETAM/SHARPSBURG (Antietam = a creek : Sharpsburg = a small town in western Maryland)

Time: September 1962

Situation: A Confederate Army had crossed into Maryland and was poised for a strike north - Pennsylvania or worst of all, Washington, D.C.

Union Commander - General George McClellan ("cautious" George)

Confederate Leader - General Robert E. Lee

Troops - Union = 87,000 : Confederate = 25,000 with increase to 40,000 (in no battle of the Civil War was the ratio of troops so disproportionate)

The Battle

Produced the heaviest & most savage fighting of the War.  Greatest single day of losses for both Armies; e.g., 4,000 dead & 20,000 wounded.


A near victory for the Union, on several occasions, but indecision & fear of defeat prevented McClellan from coordinating a Union assault on weakened Southern defenders - a LOST opportunity to end the War in 1862!!!!

A "moral" victory for the North - Lee withdrew his army south across the Potomac river back into Virginia - the threat to the Union was turned back.

Abraham Lincoln took this opportunity to issue the EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION one week after the battle - Gave the north the second official rationale for continuing the fight - Preserve the Union & Abolish Slavery - which kept England, France & Russia out of the War as potential allies to the South.

Antietam also brought an end to the concept of a "Swords & Roses" War.

An end to innocence and Romance - Both sides now understood it would be a bitter and bloody fight to the end.


So what has all this to do with honey bees?????

From the novel, Mr. Lincoln's Army by Bruce Catton

"As the (Federal) lines closed up beyond the farmhouse, with sharper rifle fire coming down from the crest of a rise in front, some of the men went through a yard where there was a long row of beehives; and just then a round shot from some Southern gun (cannon) smashed through the length of these hives, and the air, which was already full of bullets, was now abuzz and humming with angry bees. The rookie 132nd Pennsylvania (regiment) got the worst of it, and for a moment the bees almost broke up the battle. The green soldiers were marching into the rifle fire bravely enough, but the bees were more than they could take and the regiment went all to pieces as the men leaped and ran and slapped and swore. It took the united efforts of General Kimball, the brigade commander, his staff and the regimental officers to get the boys out of the yard and back into ranks again. To the end of their days the soldiers of the 132nd remembered the fight with the bees in the Roulette farmyard."


Bees in Recent Warfare

WWI - East African German-British campaigns booby trapped colonies of African honey bees (the "killers")

Vietnam - Booby trapped colonies of Apis dorsata, the giant honey bee.

U.S. "plan" to use honey bee alarm odors as agents of chemical warfare

Alarm Odors: Intraspecific pheromones (chemical messages) used to alert and recruit workers.

Misc. Insects with connects to militarism!!!


What's a Hessian? Native of the present day state of Hesse in Germany.

- Former kingdom and duchy of west-central Germany

- U.S. Revolution of 1776 - British imported mercenary troops from Hesse.

What's a Fly?

- Order Diptera - the true flies

- Cecidomyiidae - the gall or gnat midges.

An introduced pest ca. 1776, on the western end of Long Island, NY.

- a pest of wheat - insect over winters as a last instar larva under the leaf sheath of winter wheat - in Spring adult flies emerge and oviposite on host plants - larvae feed between leaf sheaths and stems - weakens and/or kills plant.

- The Rumor of the Times had it that this pestiferous fly was introduced into the U.S. via the straw bedding of the Hessian troops - dubious. However: After the Hessian troops marched through New York on their way to the battle of Guilford, residents of the area remarked that immediately after this event the Hessian Flies destroyed their wheat.

ERGO: The concept of "biological warfare" is not a new one.


Order Hemiptera (hemi = half : ptera = wing) The True bugs

Family: Reduviidae - the assassin bugs

Predaceous on other insects - A few species will utilize the blood of humans as facultative prey or when roughly handled.


"The masked hunter" Reduvius personatus - Normally a predator of bed bugs, but when in Rome.........

"Kissing bugs" Several species of the genus Triatoma - Named for habit of biting sleeping humans on mouth. Vector of trypanosome organisms responsible for Chagas' disease - Did Darwin have it????

19th Century Emirs & Khans of Central Asia used assassin bugs as agents of torture:

1842 - Emir of Bokhara (a part of the Uzbek Republic - now Uzbekistan) Put two British diplomats (Colonel Stoddard & Capt. Conolly) into his infamous "Bug-Pit" for two months, before hauling them out to be beheaded in the market place.

He used the insect called: Fedchenko's Reduvius, a.k.a. the "torture bug."

When no guests for his bug-pit were available, the Emir had lumps of fresh meat tossed in to keep his pets from starving.


Fighting Crickets of China, et alia

Order: Orthoptera

As combatants, maintained by human 'trainers' - fed special diet of rice & vegetables - goaded to a fighting state with "cricket ticklers" made of rat or rabbit hair inserted into ivory handles - - fight to the death - matched according to size & weight: three wt. classes: (light/middle/heavy) - Proven winners would sell for $50 to $100.



Order: Coleoptera (coleo = sheath)

As with crickets, maintained by humans expressly for the purpose of fighting. Fed on stalks of sugar cane. Virgin female in hole in log - males placed on opposite ends of log. Matched according to size & weight. A proven Lochinvar can fetch up to $500 (a sizable sum)

YELLOW RAIN & Ronald Reagan

Department of Defense accuses USSR of chemical/biological warfare in Southeast Asia (Laos, Cambodia) with nerve toxins of (fungal origin) applied via some undisclosed/undiscovered aerial method. Symptoms: "Dots" of yellow stuff falling from the sky onto displaced persons.

Short answer: Fecal deposition by giant honey bees.



Lockwood, J.A. (1987) Entomological warfare. Bull. Entomol. Soc. Amer. 33(2): 76-82.

Peterson, R.K.D. 1995. Insects, disease, and military history. Amer. Entomol. 41(3): 147-160.

Prestwich, G.D. (1983) The chemical defenses of termites. Sci. Amer. 251: 78-87.

Seeley, T.D. et al. (1985) Yellow rain. Sci. Amer. 253: 128-137.

Shultz, H.A. 1992. 100 years of entomology in the department of defense. In: Insect Potpourri (J. Adams, ed.). Sandhill Crane       Press, Gainesville, Florida pp. 61-72.