10 Ways Animals Have Been Used as Weapons


There’s a scene in the movie Jurassic World in which we discover that Vincent D’Onofrio’s villainous character has designs on getting his hands on some raptors so that the fearsome creatures can be used as weapons in warfare. It sounds like an utterly preposterous idea in real life, because why would you unleash a ravenous killing machine, over which you have very little control, on the world when it could just as easily kill your own forces? But as silly as it might sound, it’s not without historical precedent. Mankind has long thought ways to turn animals into weapons of war, sometimes with much better results than others.

10. Bat Bombs

No review of animals used as weapons of war would be complete without including the tale of the Pennsylvania dentist who came up with a scheme to burn down Japan with the help of many, many bats. It was in 1941 when a man named Lytle Adams proposed a plan to the US government. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, he believed that the United States could counterattack by strapping small, incendiary devices to bats, which would then be released over Japanese cities to make their way into attics and under the eaves of buildings, where they could all be detonated later on.

The plan was to release a massive bat population and then if they were all detonated simultaneously you would have literally thousands of fires breaking out all across a massive area. On paper it sounds like absolute chaos. In 1941 this would be an entirely new level of fear and terror for any population that suffered such an attack. Just imagine your entire city bursts into flames all at the same time for no discernible reason.

As insane as it sounds, Adams was friends with the president’s wife so he was able to get his idea in front of the National Research Defense Committee. My 1943 Project X-Ray was underway, the code name for turning bats into tiny bombs. The Army captured thousands of  bats with the use of nets and the program featured setback after setback. Transporting the bats proved to be problematic; also, releasing them in mid-air was an issue as well. At one point an entire airplane hangar and a general’s car were lit on fire when things didn’t go as planned. Two million dollars later, the entire scheme was canceled.

9. Anti-Tank Dogs

Of all the animals in the world that have assisted humans in a military or police fashion, none are likely more prominent than dogs. Horses have a long history as transportation for soldiers and police, but dogs have been trained to be partners. They are adept at search-and-rescue, they can track, they can even attack. So it seems natural that we’ve had a bit of a colorful history in terms of how the military has tried to use them.

Dogs in military service are used for tracking enemies or even things like sniffing out landmines, and of course they can run faster than a human, which makes them ideal for hunting down enemies and subduing them. The Soviets in the Second World War tried to take things to a whole new level with anti-tank dogs.

Soviet forces had begun training dogs to handle tanks as early as the 1930s. The idea was that a dog would be strapped with explosives and trained to crawl under an enemy tank. Each dog was outfitted with 12 kilograms of TNT, or about 26 pounds. The training of the dogs was as brutal as you could imagine it would have to be. Dogs were starved and then meat was hidden under practice tanks to encourage them to run underneath. They were exposed to the sounds of artillery fire so they wouldn’t be distracted or scared away by the noises of war. 

The strategy was not without its problems. Soviet tanks and German tanks didn’t use the same kind of fuel, so on the battlefield, the dogs didn’t know where to go because German tanks didn’t smell right. Also, the German soldiers were actually firing at the dogs so none of them made it to their targets. 

After some tweaks, the dogs proved successful in some instances, including a battle in July 1942 in which a battalion of these anti-tank dogs took out dozens of tanks. Other battles were similarly successful and by 1943 the Soviet Army was able to deploy actual anti-tank weapons, saving the lives of many future dogs who were no longer needed as living explosives after destroying over 300 enemy tanks.

8. War Elephants

Roman soldiers were using cavalry charges as early as  sometime around 380 AD. Horses have long been a part of war, but the idea of using a larger, more fearsome animal has always been an attractive and mysterious one. That’s probably why the idea of a war elephant is still so interesting even to this day when we have machines of war that can do so much more.

Believe it or not, war elephants were a real thing, and still are a real thing. The most famous use of war elephants dates back to Hannibal and his journey across the Alps with a team of war elephants to strike at Rome itself. Hannibal lay siege to the countryside for 15 years after that, even though he wasn’t actually able to secure a victory over Rome. But he surely surprised a lot of people when he appeared over the Alps with some elephants in tow, which no one expected to see.

Throughout India in the fourth century and beyond, war elephants were bedecked with armor and weaponry to destroy enemy infantry forces. Steel balls were chained to elephant trunks and the animals were trained how to spin them to crush enemies. Some even had large crossbows mounted on their backs that a soldier could fire, not all that different from the Oliphant scenes in The Lord of the Rings movies, although not quite to that scale.

Fast forward to modern times, and you can actually find elephants in present-day Myanmar working with soldiers on the front lines. The Kachin Independence Army are a group of rebel forces who make use of war elephants in their guerrilla tactics. In 2012 it was believed they had about four dozen of these elephants. They exist in the deep jungle where motorized vehicles can’t reach. Most of them are used as pack animals, but others could be considered combat elephants. They try to keep them out of any direct confrontation, mostly using them as psychological weapons because the sound of an elephant trumpeting in the woods before you’re attacked by soldiers with guns is something that will rattle just about anyone.

The elephants themselves don’t see a lot of actual fighting because although they could theoretically withstand some degree of assault, once gunpowder became a reality and cannonballs were being used on the battlefield, elephants simply became large targets rather than weapons.

7. War Dolphins

Even if you don’t know a lot about dolphins you probably know that they are exceptionally intelligent and exceptionally playful. It’s that first part that is actually being used against them by some military forces who see it as an opportunity to make combat dolphins.

Back in 2016 the Russian government made public that they were actually in the market for five combat dolphins that they could buy. The requirements were that the dolphins be physically unblemished and have perfect teeth. The country had been using dolphins for various military purposes since the Cold War. Back then, they were used to detect submarines and flag mines.

Russia is not the only country that has sought to use dolphins in wartime. America also was making dolphin soldiers as far back as 1960. The Navy Marine Mammal training program has 85 dolphins in San Diego, California. You’ll be happy to know that the US military doesn’t train dolphins to ever get in harm’s way. They find underwater mines, including ones that are buried on the ocean floor, and they can also discover an enemy presence in the water and alert military forces that an attack is imminent. Both of these are strictly location only and don’t involve direct contact, so that the dolphins will be unharmed. 

6. Bees

Most people hate bees at the best of times. If you’re not allergic then you are likely afraid of being stung by an angry one. If it weren’t for honey, most people that have no use for bees at all despite the fact that they are fairly helpful little pollinators and they’re content to mind their business, for the most part.

This aversion to bees is by no means a modern thing. Throughout history people have been cautious to avoid stinging insects. That’s why after catapults were invented someone got the bright idea to launch beehives into enemy camps as a form of warfare.

Beehives were catapulted from ships onto the decks of other ships, and over walls into cities. Apparently in the 14th century there was a windmill-like Gatling gun device that had hives on the arms that would be shot towards the enemy, thoroughly bathing the area in very angry bees.

5. Rats

In the movie Wanted there is an agent of the Guild of Assassins who uses rats as weapons, strapped with explosives so they can infiltrate a building and blow up a target. As fanciful as that sounds it’s not entirely far-fetched in terms of real-world uses of rats with explosive results. It turns out that back in the day, British secret agents — think the real life counterparts to James Bond himself — we’re actually outfitted with exploding rats. There was one incident when a Special Operatives Executive had the guys in the lab create 100 exploding rats for him by stuffing the bodies of the little creatures with explosives. Obviously, they were dead at the time, and they were skinned, filled with plastic explosives, and then sewn up again.

The plan for the exploding rats was to place them near coal boilers. When they were discovered, a natural reaction of whoever was feeding the boiler would be just to shovel the corpse of the rat in with the coal to get rid of it. And since it was full of explosives, the boiler would then blow up and take out a sizable chunk of whatever building they were in.

Weirdly enough, the exploding rats never got deployed in the field because they were intercepted by German forces. Once the Germans realized that the Brits were importing explosive rats, German forces were sent out into the field to track down as many rats as they could and eliminate them before they could blow up. The fact was there were no additional exploding rats, so while the explosives didn’t get to do their intended job, at least they ended up wasting the enemy’s time. In fact, the SOE concluded that the effect of the Germans discovering the rats and hunting for additional ones in the field was actually a more effective result than had the rats done their intended purpose.

4. Scorpions 

Anyone who lives in a desert climate near scorpions knows just how much of a nuisance these little arachnids can be. Most scorpion stings are painful and can cause issues with irregular breathing and heartbeat, but more serious side effects are rare. That doesn’t mean they’re unheard of; it’s entirely possible that a scorpion sting could kill you, especially if you have an anaphylactic reaction.

In the second century the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus was attempting to lay siege to Mesopotamia. When he reached the city of Hatra, the emperor and his forces tried to get over the wall of the stronghold only to be met with earthenware pots hurled at them like bombs from the other side. The pots had been loaded with scorpions, which were extremely prevalent in the area and a well-known problem for locals.

Roman soldiers were showered with scorpions, the pots breaking up on their bodies and covering them with the angry bugs. This method of defense continued for 20 days until the Roman Emperor finally gave up and retreated.

3. Rhinos 

One of the most famous scenes in the movie Black Panther involves a charge of war rhinos. You can imagine, even without the assistance of some Hollywood special-effects, how formidable an armored rhinoceros would look coming at you on the field of battle. 

Unlike the well-documented war elephant, the idea of a real life war rhino is harder to pin down. First and foremost is the problematic fact that rhinos are extremely aggressive and resistant to being trained. Elephants can be domesticated to a degree, but the same cannot be said for a rhino. At least, not in the way that anyone has experienced and kept a record of. There are, however, scattered reports throughout history of the existence of war rhinos. The problem is that they are not reliable enough that you could claim with any degree of certainty that this was really a thing that happened.

There are pieces of artwork from the 1500s to the 1600s that show rhinos in armor, but they may simply be fanciful drawings rather than any kind of realistic interpretation of the creature.

Elsewhere, you can find unsubstantiated reports that the Ahom people may have used rhinos as animals of war, but there is little evidence to back it up. So is it possible that the world had war rhinos at some point? Of course. But you can’t definitively say that one way or the other.

2. War Pigs

Not just a Black Sabbath song, war pigs were actual weapons of war. Pigs are known to be very intelligent animals and also highly aggressive. If you ever had to deal with wild hogs, you know how territorial they can be, as well as how dangerous. 

Believe it or not, war pigs were actually used to counter war elephants. Pliny the Elder, famous Roman author and philosopher, was one of the first to recognize that elephants were oddly afraid of the squeal of pigs. Pigs have been used successfully to disrupt charges of war elephants but at the siege of Megara in the year 266 things escalated to a new level. The Megarians were under siege by Antigonus II Gonatus, who came to the city with a contingent of war elephants. Megara responded by unleashing war pigs, and also coating them in oil before setting them ablaze.

Burning pigs rushed the line of war elephants, creating chaos. The elephant handlers were unable to control the large beasts and the animals turned, crushing their own lines. At the end of the day, the war pig was more than capable of destroying an advancing war elephant force. 

1. Flaming Monkeys

If there are two words that you can combine to instill more fear in a person than flaming and monkeys, you should copyright it right away. The very idea of a flaming monkey coming at you on the field of battle is disturbing on a number of levels. Still, try to imagine this strategy that was apparently employed by the Chinese Imperial Army during the Song Dynasty sometime in the 12th century. 

Word is that during a battle with rebels of the Yanzhou province the army resorted to lighting monkeys on fire and then loosing them in the rebel camp, where they ran amok, lighting things on fire until presumably they collapsed. So not only did the soldiers have the disorienting experience of dealing with flaming combatants, they also probably had to deal with the panic shrieks of flaming monkeys as well. It’s about as horrifying a fighting tactic as you can imagine.

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