Friday, November 7, 2008

The Ants Come Marching

I have to admit, when I first heard about Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War at sales conference, I wasn’t really that interested. However, when I started to make my sales calls to various booksellers and librarians, they were so enthusiastic about this book that I decided to give it a try. It really is a fascinating book, packed full of unusual and surprising facts.
One of the most interesting chapters is “Bee Bombs and Wasp Warheads”. For thousands of years, throwing bee hives or wasp nests at an enemy was a very common strategy of war. The Romans and Greeks both used bee hives to fire at their enemies, which is reflected in the language we still use today: “bombos”, the Greek word for bees, is closely connected to the word “bombard”. The Mayans would create clay containers and set them in places where bees would likely move in, then during a battle they would plug up the holes and start throwing these clay “footballs” at their enemies. During the Middle Ages, all ships carried bee hives or wasp nests as part of their arsenal.
There are also many Canadian historical references in this very unusual book. During WWII, Sir Frederick Banting, the Canadian hero who discovered insulin, was a great proponent of biological warfare. The Canadian government wouldn’t give him any money to do experiments, so he collected over a million dollars from the presidents of Canadian companies such as Eatons, Seagrams and the CPR. His team was working on a scheme that would use mosquitoes to spread yellow fever among the Nazis, however, nothing ever came of these experiments.

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