Those wacky pranksters of the Pentagon are once again pushing the envelope on the words “unethical”, “impractical” and “deeply disturbing” with yet another attempt to turn animals into weapons.
After their recent fun and games with remote-controlled sharks, they’re trying the same trick with insects. By integrating microelectronics into butterfly larvae, they hope to direct the adults as bomb detectors or spies.
You might think that this is paranoid nonsense. And you’d be right. There are clearly unhinged minds at work here, which covers the paranoia, and the insects themselves have supplied the nonsense but firmly refusing to co-operate. Early trials with wasps quickly degenerated into farce: these skinheads of the insect world cheerfully ignored their remote controls, opting instead to obey their God-given primal instincts to mate, lay eggs, and ruin picnics. Unless Osama Bin Laden is sitting outside his cave on a red check tablecloth, wrestling with a mayonnaise jar, he can probably rest easy.
Nor is this the first time that the military has failed to overcome the natural limitations their unfortunate subjects.
In the Second World War, attempts were made to stick a bomb on a cat and drop it from a dive-bomber on to Nazi ships. The concept was that the cat, hating water, would "wrangle" itself on to enemy ship's deck. Result: the cats proved strangely ill-equipped to deal with being slung out of aircraft and operating parachutes, and promptly passed out in mid-air. However, 2nd Lt Muffy “Whiskas” Miaow, King’s Own Tortoiseshells, did go on to escape from Colditz a record three times, repeatedly taking the war to the enemy even in captivity, and killing an alsatian guard dog in his final ill-fated attempt by cleverly wedging his corpse in its throat.
Also during WWII, another winner. Attach incendiaries to bats, induce hibernation, and then drop them from planes. They wake up, fly any into nearby buildings (such as factories) to roost, and then blow up. Alas, hibernation takes several hours to fully recover from: the bats universally plummeted to their deaths, to the strains of the Last Post.
But it’s not all abysmal failure. During the Vietnam War, dolphins were trained to tear the diving gear off of Vietcong divers and drag them to interrogation, and even to use syringes placed on their flippers to inject carbon dioxide into the divers, causing them to explode. Whereupon they jumped through a hoop, rang a bell and got a fish. About 40 divers are thought to have met this truly bizarre end. Did they know what was happening to them? Did the dolphins?
Fortunately, there are also civilian applications. The New York Police Department, for example, is trying to wire up rats to find people trapped in collapsed buildings. Let’s hope that instinct does not win the inevitable conflict of interest in this case, too. After all, in the normal course of events, a rat doesn’t want to find live bodies in the wreckage – what it really needs is dead ones. But if hungry, it’ll settle for one that can’t writhe or kick too much. If the NYPD is reading this, well, keep your fingers on the “Off” switch, boys…
The Navy’s cutest secret weapon, yesterday. No Flipper jokes, if you know what’s good for you.