Favorites   •   Rants In Our Pants

5 Strange Ways Animals Have Served in Armies

From spying squirrels to bomb-sniffing bees, animals have served some unusual roles in military operations. Here are the five of the strangest attempted army-animal combinations.

By (@JRRaphael)

January 6, 2011

Watch out, James Bond: My spying squirrel can totally outsmart you.

It may sound like something out of a Pixar flick, but the idea of zany-sounding warrior animals is all too real. With the release of movies like Disney’s G-Force — a story about guinea pigs who are secretly government spies — we decided to seek out some similarly silly scenarios that have actually taken place in the non-animated world. We didn’t have to look far.
Military Animals: The Spying Squirrel

1. Spying Squirrels

No, it’s not the latest whiney-voiced emo band to hit the airwaves. (Okay, it might be, but that’s still not what we’re talking about.) Spying squirrels, it turns out, were suspected to be part of an army operation just a couple of years ago. In fact, Iranian police arrested 14 of the backstabbing little bastards. From Sky News:

“Police in Iran are reported to have taken 14 squirrels into custody because they are suspected of spying. The rodents were found near the Iranian border allegedly equipped with eavesdropping devices.”

In case this anecdote isn’t amusing enough, someone described as a “Foreign Office source” is also quoted in Sky News as saying: “The story is nuts.”

We couldn’t make this stuff up if we tried. And we frequently do.

2. Bomb-Sniffing Bees

What’s that damn buzzing noise? Oh…it’s just one of those bomb-sniffing bees. America’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency hired bunches of the bumbling buggers to smell out trouble in the field. The bees apparently detect bomb ingredients as reliably as their canine counterparts. Once trained, they signal the smell of explosives with a flick of their feeding tube, the proboscises.

From USA Today:

“From the outside, a bee bomb-detection unit in practice would look like a plain box with a few air holes, perhaps stationed outside an airplane entrance ramp or train platform. Strapped into straw-like tubes within the box … rows of bees would be exposed to puffs of air, constantly checking for faint bomb smells. A video camera tied to pattern-recognition software would signal when the bees suddenly start waving their proboscises in unison.”

Oh, honey. Can’t these things just mind their own beeswax for once?

3. Data-Gathering Insects

One of the more recent developments in the world of army animals, America’s data-gathering insect program turns real live bugs into human-powered part-cyborgs. If it sounds creepy, that’s because — well, quite frankly, it is.

Scientists start by implementing electronic controls into the insects’ bodies. The part-creature, part-machine hybrids can then be steered around and used to collect and transmit information — everything from chemical detector data to actual video and audio surveillance.

From the Web site of the Defense Department’s Hybrid Insect initiative:

“The HI-MEMS program is aimed at developing tightly coupled machine-insect interfaces by placing micro-mechanical systems inside the insects during the early stages of metamorphosis. … Since a majority of the tissue development in insects occurs in the later stages of metamorphosis, the renewed tissue growth around the MEMS will tend to heal and form a reliable and stable tissue-machine interface.”

Note to self: Steal HI-MEMS technology. Attempt to jam it into associates’ arms. Proceed with world (or at least office) domination.

4. Beer-Drinking Warrior Bear

Military Animals: The Warrior Bear

Warning: This next character is no Winnie the Pooh. Voytek was a bear who inadvertently became a soldier during World War II. Polish troops evidently came across the creature wandering around Iran and decided, for some bizarre reason, to treat him as one of their own. He supposedly carried ammo for the men — but it’s his off-duty time that proved to be most memorable.

Voytek showered in the unit’s bath hut, according to reports, and that’s just the start. From the U.K.’s Mail Online:

“Off-duty, he loved a bottle of beer, a cigarette and to wrestle with the men in between raids on the cookhouse.”

Sounds kind of like my old college roommate. Oddly, that guy’s last name was Voytek, too. Wait a minute…

5. Terrorist-Detecting Gerbils

Those spying squirrels may have met their match. Israeli officials reportedly once trained a squad of gerbils to detect terrorists and spies trying to fly through the country. The gerbils were taught to look for signs of nervousness or discomfort, then notify guards. As the Telegraph explains:

“The plan was based on the ability of gerbils to detect a rise in adrenalin from changes in the scent of human sweat. … The Israelis had put the idea into practice, placing gerbil cages to the side of security checks for travelers at Tel Aviv airport. A suitably placed fan wafted the scent of the suspect’s sweat into the cage.”

The U.K.’s MI5 intelligence agency nearly hired Team Gerbil to handle its own airport security, but the plan never got off the ground. The reason? The gerbils kept confusing terrorists with passengers who were simply scared of flying, the Telegraph says. (Either that, or they kept getting distracted by chew toys.)

Advantage: squirrels.

(Images: FreakingNews.com)

Get fresh geek humor delivered daily: RSS | E-Mail | Twitter