For thousands of years insects have been incorporated into human conflict, with the goals of inflicting pain, destroying food, and transmitting pathogens. Early methods used insects as “found” weapons, functioning as tactical arms (e.g., hurled nests) or in strategic habitats (e.g., mosquito-infested swamps). In the twentieth century the relationship between insects and disease was exploited; vectors were mass-produced to efficiently deliver pathogens to an enemy. The two most sophisticated programs were those of the Japanese in World War II with plague-infected fleas and cholera-coated flies and of the Americans during the Cold War with yellow fever–infected mosquitoes. With continued advances, defenses in the form of insecticides and vaccines meant that insects were no longer considered as battlefield weapons. However, in recent times sociopolitical changes have put insects back into the realm of human conflict through asymmetrical conflicts pitting combatants from nonindustrialized regions against forces from militarily and economically superior nations.


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