Monday, April 03, 2006

Animal of the Week April 03, 2006 -- Cry "Havoc" and let slip the bats of war

The parts played by animals throughout the history of human conflict have been great and varied, from carrier pigeons and dogs delivering messages in the world wars to Hannibal riding a bunch of elephants over the Alps to attack the Romans in 218 BC (Predictably one member of the Team was absent, as he succinctly put it: I aint gettin' on no goddam pachyderm, fool! [Head Keeper gets coat]).

One of the more surprising attempts involved this week's animal Tadarida brasiliensis (Brazilian free-tailed bat, Mexican free-tailed bat, guano bat). During the second world war, US$2 million was invested in the Bat Bomb. The US Airforce planned to attach incendiary devices to Mexican free-tailed bat and load them into containers that would be parachuted on to Japanese cities. Upon landing, the canister would open and the timers on the incendiary devices would be activated, the bats would then seek out a roost in the wooden eaves of various buildings and 30 minutes later tiny fires would break out throughout the city. The project suffered several setbacks, sometimes bats failed to wake up on landing a simply fried in the container. Most memorably, however, during one test at Carlsbad, New Mexico, incendiary-laden bats escaped and set fire to the Auxiliary Army Air Base. Although the project was passed from the Airforce to the Navy, bats were never deployed in combat and the project was abandoned in 1944 in favour of alternative methods of laying waste to Japanese cities.

These migratory, new world, insect-eating bats live in the largest colonies of any mammal—up to 20 million of them inhabit the most densely populated breeding caves in Texas. The bats are remarkable, flying at heights greater than 10 000 feet (the highest flying bat) and at speeds of over 60 mph. Each year in Texas these bats may consume up to 18 000 tons of insects. These insects are processed into vast amounts of guano, in the early 1900s this excellent organic fertiliser was the Lonestar State's greatest mineral export ahead of oil. [Insert joke about the early 2000s and excrement from Texas]

And I don't do mythical animals, but want to share this with you. If you've got a couple of minutes it is well worth reading for humorous bad Russian-English translation and, well, just and, read it all...


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