Mosquitoes as weapons? It was nearly a real-life threat during World War II, new research suggests.
Researchers now say that Nazi scientists were plotting to weaponize mosquitoes. The plan, which appears never to have been implemented, called for airplanes to release mosquitoes infected with malaria over enemy forces. Scary.
The plan was uncovered by Dr. Klaus Reinhardt, a biologist at the University of Tübingen, who pored over records involving the notorious Dachau concentration camp. His findings were published in the December edition of the quarterly magazine Endeavour.
The mosquito plan dates back to January 1942. That's when Heinrich Himmler, head of the Schutzstaffel (SS) and police in Nazi Germany, reportedly ordered the creation of an entomological institute to study the physiology and control of harmful insects, Reinhardt noted in the article's abstract. The institute was headed by insect researcher Eduard May.
Although the use of chemical and biological weapons was outlawed by the Geneva Protocol of 1925, the question of whether Hitler abided by this edict has long been a topic of debate, the BBC reported. Nazi gas chambers prove the Third Reich's willingness to use poison on civilians, but some historians have argued Hitler did not approve such tactics for the battlefield.
In the article, Reinhardt acknowledges that the evidence for using mosquitoes for biological warfare is far from conclusive.
"The idea to grow malaria-laden mosquitoes and drop them on people is not very well documented other than by the words 'growing station' and 'airdropping site,'" Reinhardt told National Geographic in an email. "The equipment May had at hand was actually rather pathetic."
This is not the first time researchers have offered evidence of Nazi experiments involving "mosquito warfare."
In 2006, Yale history professor Frank Snowden published a book called The Conquest of Malaria in Italy, in which he maintained that the Nazis released malaria-infected mosquitoes to try to stop advancing Allied troops in Italy.
Using American archives and the diaries of Italian soldiers, Snowden's book details how a Nazi entomologist named Erich Martinia allegedly directed the Germans to flood marshes near Rome and fill them with the larvae of malaria-carrying mosquitoes, the Telegraph reported.
Because they were inoculated against malaria, British and American troops wouldn't have been affected by the alleged attack, according to Snowden. But malaria cases did soar among civilians in the area.
Still, not everyone is convinced.
Dr. Eric Toner, an expert in medical responses to bioterrorism at the University of Pittsburgh, told National Geographic that while Reinhardt "makes a good case" regarding possible Nazi offensive biowarfare experimentation, he does not see a "smoking gun."