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5 Fascinating Animals That Served in the Military

We’ve already told you the story of Sir Nils Olav and about 10 other animals that have received military-style honors, but few of those critters actually served in the military. Now it’s time to take a look at some of the bravest and most celebrated critters that have ever served their countries.

1. Judy

A liver and white pointer born in 1937, Judy, became the mascot of the British Royal Navy at a young age. In 1942, her ship was attacked by bombers and forced to beach on a nearby island that had little food and no apparent water sources. Judy disappeared for two days; when she reappeared, she immediately started digging on the coastline and uncovered a fresh water spring—saving the lives of her shipwrecked crewmates.

Eventually, Judy and the rest of the crew were rescued by a Chinese junk and were taken to Sumatra. During their attempt to reach Padang, they were taken as prisoners by the Japanese. The entire crew was sent to the war camp in Medan, making Judy the only dog registered as a Prisoner of War during WWII.

At the camp, Leading Aircraftman Frank Williams adopted Judy and shared his small daily ration of rice with the dog. Judy helped the prisoners by distracting the guards while they were administering punishments and warning her fellow inmates when snakes or scorpions were around. Williams helped save the dog by making an agreement with the camp’s Commandant that he could have one of Judy’s future puppies as long as he told his guards to leave the dog alone.

The men were transferred to Singapore in 1944 and while dogs weren’t allowed on the ship, Williams trained Judy to lay very still and smuggled her onboard in a rice sack. When the ship was torpedoed, he threw her from a portal hoping to save her life, before making his own escape. While Williams was recaptured before he saw Judy, he heard stories from others about a dog that helped rescue drowning men by bringing them pieces of floating debris.

Judy and Williams met again at their new prison camp, where they were forced to clear a path through the jungle to make way for a new railroad. Eventually, the guards sentenced Judy to death, but she managed to hide out in the jungle until hostilities ceased. After the war, Judy and Williams returned to the UK and Judy was given the Dickin Medal (the animal version of a Victoria Cross) in 1946. Williams was given the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals’ (PDSA) White Cross of St. Giles, their highest award possible for his protection of Judy.

Sources: Wikipedia, Yorkshire Post, The Age, PDSA

2. Bamse

This heroic pup, whose name means “teddy bear” in Norwegian, eventually became a symbol for Norwegian freedom during WWII. Bamse was bought by Captain Erling Hafto in 1937 with the intent of turning her into a ship’s dog. Before the war, she would look after the Captain’s children, but when WWII broke out, Hafto’s ship was drafted into the Royal Norwegian Navy and Bamse went along for the ride.

After the Nazis invaded Norway, Bamse’s ship was one of only 13 Norwegian naval vessels that managed to escape to the UK. The ship was converted into a minesweeper and stationed in Montrose, Scotland for the rest of the war. While Bamse might not have helped search for mines very efficiently, when the ship wound up in battle, she would stand on the front gun tower of the boat wearing her own special metal helmet. More important to the troops, she lifted the spirits of the crew. She also wrangled them up at the end of the day to get them back on the ship before curfew: She rode the bus, with a bus pass attached to her collar, to her crew’s favorite bar, then went in and fetched them. When she couldn’t find her crewmates, she would ride the bus back to base alone.

Bamse wasn’t just loyal. She was also heroic: She once pushed a knife-wielding attacker into the sea, saving the life of a lieutenant commander; on another occasion, she jumped off the boat and dragged a sailor who had fallen overboard back to shore.

Given the Nazi occupation back home, it’s no surprise that Bamse quickly became mascot of all Free Norwegian Forces—they needed something positive and heart-warming to remind them why they kept fighting and couldn’t go home.  The PDSA even made her an official Allied Forces Mascot.

When she died in 1944, Bamse was given full military honors and her funeral was attended by hundreds of people. In 1984, she was posthumously awarded the Norwegian Norges Hundeorden for her war service and the PDSA awarded her their Gold Medal in 2006, making her the only animal from WWII to receive the honor. In 2006, a life-sized bronze statue of Bamse was erected in Montrose. In 2008, a biography about the pup was released, titled Sea Dog Bamse.

Note: Some sources refer to Bamse as a female, but others refer to the dog as a male. There seems to be no clear source on the dog’s sex overall.

Sources: Wikipedia, BBC NewsThe Bamse Heritage Trust, PDSA

3. Theo

Theo was a bomb detection dog in the British Army’s 1st Military Working Dog Regiment. The English Springer Spaniel was born in 2009, trained in his duties and then assigned to his handler, Liam Tasker, in 2010.

The pair was sent to Afghanistan in September 2010 for Theo’s first tour. In March of 2011, Tasker and Theo were on patrol in the Nahri Saraj District when they were attacked by Taliban insurgents. Tasker was shot and killed by a sniper and upon returning to base, Theo suffered from a seizure and died. It is believed his death was caused by the stress he incurred by the attack and Tasker’s death.

Amazingly, while the duo was only in service together for about six months, they had already set a new record for bomb finds for their period of deployment and were considered the most successful working dog team in Afghanistan. As a result, Theo was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal in 2012.

Sources: WikipediaABC NewsBBC

4. Lin Wang

Think dogs are the only animals that can be useful during wars? Think again.

Lin Wang was an Asian elephant that served with the Chinese Expeditionary Force in WWII. He originally served the Japanese army by transporting supplies, but was captured by the Chinese in 1943 along with 12 other elephants. The Chinese used the elephants in a similar manner until they were recalled back to China in 1945.

After the war, Lin Wang continued to help the military by aiding in the building of war monuments and by performing a circus to help raise money for famine relief. Eventually, he was transferred to an army base in Kaohsiung, where he helped transport logs and perform other simple tasks.

In 1952, Lin Wang was given to the Taipei Zoo, where he met his lifelong mate, Malan. The elephant eventually became the most famous animal in Taiwan and in 1983, the zoo threw him a birthday party for what would approximately be his 66th birthday. His birthday was celebrated every year after that on the last Sunday of October. Lin Wang survived until 2003, making him around 86 years old (typically Asian elephants live to around 70 years).

While he may not have made a huge difference in the war, he was still a major celebrity in Taipei. His memorial service lasted several weeks and was attended by tens of thousands of people. In honor of his memory, Lin Wang was posthumously awarded the title of “Honorary Taipei Citizen” by the mayor.

Sources: Wikipedia, BBCThe China Post, Taipei Times

5. Tirpitz

In WWI, Tirpiz started out in the Germany Navy—who kept the pig on hand as a source of fresh meat. He was onboard the SMS Dresden when it sank off the coast of South America in 1915. The German soldiers fled, but the poor pig was left on board to sink. Fortunately, Tirpiz was able to make its way to the top deck and swim clear of the ship. He immediately started heading straight for the Royal Navy ships and was eventually rescued and pulled onboard the HMS Glasgow.

The ship’s crew quickly adopted the pig, naming him after Alfred von Tirpitz, the German Admiral and Secretary of State of the Imperial Naval Office. The pig stayed on the ship for a year and was then placed in quarantine until he was adopted by the man who first saw him swimming to their boat. Tirpitz was then transferred to Whale Island Gunnery School for the rest of his career.

Unfortunately, the fact that Tirpitz was still just a pig eventually caught up to him and after the war ended, he was auctioned off as pork for charity, helping the British Red Cross raise 1,785 pounds. Later on, his stuffed head was donated to the Imperial War Museum.

Sources: Wikipedia, The Guardian, Imperial War Museums

There are thousands of animals who have served in the military, and this is only a small selection of the heroic critters worth reading about. If you feel like one particular military animal was egregiously left out of this list though, let us know in the comments. Who knows, maybe we will cover more military animals in a future article.

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15 Incredible Facts About Pigeons
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Though they're often described as "rats with wings" (a phrase popularized by the movie Stardust Memories), pigeons are actually pretty cool. From homing instincts to misleading rump feathers, here are 15 things you might not know about these avian adventurers.

1. THEY MIGHT BE THE FIRST DOMESTICATED BIRD.

The common city pigeon (Columba livia), also known as the rock pigeon, might be the first bird humankind ever domesticated. You can see them in art dating back as far as 4500 BCE in modern Iraq, and they've been a valuable source of food for thousands of years.

2. THEY WON OVER CHARLES DARWIN—AND NIKOLA TESLA.

Pigeon-breeding was a common hobby in Victorian England for everyone from well-off businessmen to average Joes, leading to some fantastically weird birds. Few hobbyists had more enthusiasm for the breeding process than Charles Darwin, who owned a diverse flock, joined London pigeon clubs, and hobnobbed with famous breeders. Darwin's passion for the birds influenced his 1868 book The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, which has not one but two chapters about pigeons (dogs and cats share a single chapter).

Nikola Tesla was another great mind who enjoyed pigeons. He used to care for injured wild pigeons in his New York City hotel room. Hands down, Tesla's favorite was a white female—about whom he once said, "I loved that pigeon, I loved her as a man loves a woman and she loved me. When she was ill, I knew and understood; she came to my room and I stayed beside her for days. I nursed her back to health. That pigeon was the joy of my life. If she needed me, nothing else mattered. As long as I had her, there was a purpose in my life." Reportedly, he was inconsolable after she died.

3. THEY UNDERSTAND SPACE AND TIME.

In a 2017 Current Biology study, researchers showed captive pigeons a series of digital lines on a computer screen for either two or eight seconds. Some lines were short, measuring about 2.3 inches across; others were four times longer. The pigeons were trained to evaluate either the length of the line or how long it was displayed. They found that the more time a line was displayed, the longer in length the pigeon judged it to be. The reverse was true too: If the pigeons encountered a longer line, they thought it existed in time for a greater duration. Pigeons, the scientists concluded, understand the concepts of both time and space; the researchers noted "similar results have been found with humans and other primates."

It's thought that humans process those concepts with a brain region called the parietal cortex; pigeon brains lack that cortex, so they must have a different way of judging space and time.

4. THEY CAN FIND THEIR WAY BACK TO THE NEST FROM 1300 MILES AWAY.

A pigeon flying in front of trees.
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The birds can do this even if they've been transported in isolation—with no visual, olfactory, or magnetic clues—while scientists rotate their cages so they don't know what direction they're traveling in. How they do this is a mystery, but people have been exploiting the pigeon's navigational skills since at least 3000 BCE, when ancient peoples would set caged pigeons free and follow them to nearby land.

Their navigational skills also make pigeons great long-distance messengers. Sports fans in ancient Greece are said to have used trained pigeons to carry the results of the Ancient Olympics. Further east, Genghis Khan stayed in touch with his allies and enemies alike through a pigeon-based postal network.

5. THEY SAVED THOUSANDS OF HUMAN LIVES DURING WORLD WARS I AND II.

Pigeons' homing talents continued to shape history during the 20th century. In both World Wars, rival nations had huge flocks of pigeon messengers. (America alone had 200,000 at its disposal in WWII.) By delivering critical updates, the avians saved thousands of human lives. One racing bird named Cher Ami completed a mission that led to the rescue of 194 stranded U.S. soldiers on October 4, 1918.

6. TWO PIGEONS ALMOST DISTRACTED FROM THE DISCOVERY OF EVIDENCE OF THE BIG BANG.

In 1964, scientists in Holmdel, New Jersey, heard hissing noises from their antenna that would later prove to be signals from the Big Bang. But when they first heard the sound, they thought it might be, among other things, the poop of two pigeons that were living in the antenna. "We took the pigeons, put them in a box, and mailed them as far away as we could in the company mail to a guy who fancied pigeons," one of the scientists later recalled. "He looked at them and said these are junk pigeons and let them go and before long they were right back." But the scientists were able to clean out the antenna and determine that they had not been the cause of the noise. The trap used to catch the birds (before they had to later be, uh, permanently removed) is on view at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.

7. YOU CAN TRAIN THEM TO BE ART SNOBS …

Japanese psychologist Shigeru Watanabe and two colleagues earned an Ig Nobel Prize in 1995 for training pigeons, in a lab setting, to recognize the paintings of Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso and to distinguish between the painters. The pigeons were even able to use their knowledge of impressionism and cubism to identify paintings of other artists in those movements. Later, Watanabe taught other pigeons to distinguish watercolor images from pastels. And in a 2009 experiment, captive pigeons he'd borrowed were shown almost two dozen paintings made by students at a Tokyo elementary school, and were taught which ones were considered "good" and which ones were considered "bad." He then presented them with 10 new paintings and the avian critics managed to correctly guess which ones had earned bad grades from the school's teacher and a panel of adults. Watanabe's findings indicate that wild pigeons naturally categorize things on the basis of color, texture, and general appearance.

8. … AND TO DISTINGUISH WRITTEN WORDS.

In a 2016 study, scientists showed that pigeons can differentiate between strings of letters and actual words. Four of the birds built up a vocabulary of between 26 and 58 written English words, and though the birds couldn't actually read them, they could identify visual patterns and therefore tell them apart. The birds could even identify words they hadn't seen before.

9. FLUFFY PIGEON FEET MIGHT ACTUALLY BE PARTIAL WINGS.

A white pigeon with curly feathers and fluffy feet.
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A few pigeon breeds have fuzzy legs—which hobbyists call "muffs"—rather than scaly ones. According to a 2016 study, the DNA of these fluffy-footed pigeons leads their hind legs to take on some forelimb characteristics, making muffed pigeon legs look distinctly wing-like; they're also big-boned. Not only do they have feathers, but the hindlimbs are somewhat big-boned, too. According to biologist Mike Shapiro, who led the study, "pigeons' fancy feathered feet are partially wings."

10. SOME PIGEONS DISTRACT FALCONS WITH WHITE RUMP FEATHERS.

In a life-or-death situation, a pigeon's survival could depend upon its color pattern: Research has shown that wild falcons rarely go after pigeons that have a white patch of feathers just above the tail, and when the predators do target these birds, the attacks are rarely successful.

To figure out why this is, Ph.D. student Alberto Palleroni and a team tagged 5235 pigeons in the vicinity of Davis, California. Then, they monitored 1485 falcon-on-pigeon attacks over a seven-year span. The researchers found that although white-rumped pigeons comprised 20 to 25 percent of the area's pigeon population, they represented less than 2 percent of all the observed pigeons that were killed by falcons; the vast majority of the victims had blue rumps. Palleroni and his team rounded up 756 white- and blue-rumped pigeons and swapped their rump feathers by clipping and pasting white feathers on blue rumps, and vice versa. The falcons had a much easier time spotting and catching the newly blue-rumped pigeons, while the pigeons that received the white feathers saw predation rates plummet.

Close observation revealed that the white patches distract birds of prey. In the wild, falcons dive-bomb other winged animals from above at high speeds. Some pigeons respond by rolling away in midair, and on a spiraling bird, white rump feathers can be eye-catching, which means that a patch of them may divert a hungry raptor's focus long enough to make the carnivore miscalculate and zip right past its intended victim.

11. DODOS WERE RELATED TO TODAY'S PIGEONS.

Two blue and green Nicobar pigeons.
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Though most of this list focuses on the rock pigeon, there are 308 living species of pigeons and doves. Together, they make up an order of birds known as the columbiformes. The extinct dodo belonged to this group as well.

Flightless and (somewhat) docile, dodos once inhabited Mauritius, an island near Madagascar. The species had no natural predators, but when human sailors arrived with rats, dogs, cats, and pigs, it began to die out, and before the 17th century came to a close, the dodo had vanished altogether. DNA testing has confirmed that pigeons are closely related to the dodo, and the vibrant Nicobar pigeon (above) is its nearest genetic relative. A multi-colored bird with iridescent feathers, this near-threatened creature is found on small islands in the South Pacific and off Asia. Unlike the dodo, it can fly.

12. AT ONE POINT, MORE THAN ONE-QUARTER OF ALL THE BIRDS LIVING IN THE U.S. MAY HAVE BEEN PASSENGER PIGEONS.

Wild/feral rock pigeons reside in all 50 states, which makes it easy to forget that they're invasive birds. Originally native to Eurasia and northern Africa, the species was (most likely) introduced to North America by French settlers in 1606. At the time, a different kind of columbiform—this one indigenous—was already thriving there: the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius). As many as 5 billion of them were living in America when England, Spain, and France first started colonizing, and they may have once represented anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of the total U.S. bird population. But by the early 20th century, they had become a rare sight, thanks to overhunting, habitat loss, and a possible genetic diversity issue. The last known passenger pigeon—a captive female named Martha—died on September 1, 1914.

13. THEY'RE REALLY GOOD AT MULTITASKING.

According to one study, they're more efficient multitaskers than people are. Scientists at Ruhr-Universitat Bochum put together a test group of 15 humans and 12 pigeons and trained all of them to complete two simple jobs (like pressing a keyboard once a light bulb came on). They were also put in situations wherein they'd need to stop working on one job and switch over to another. In some trials, the participants had to make the change immediately. During these test runs, humans and pigeons switched between jobs at the same speed.

But in other trials, the test subjects were allowed to complete one assignment and then had to wait 300 milliseconds before moving on to the next job. Interestingly, in these runs, the pigeons were quicker to get started on that second task after the period ended. In the avian brain, nerve cells are more densely packed, which might enable our feathered friends to process information faster than we can under the right circumstances.

14. PIGEONS PRODUCE FAKE "MILK."

Only mammals produce genuine milk, but pigeons and doves (along with some other species of birds) feed their young with something similar—a whitish liquid filled with nutrients, fats, antioxidants, and healthy proteins called "crop milk." Both male and female pigeons create the milk in the crop, a section of the esophagus designed to store food temporarily. As is the case with mammal milk, the creation of crop milk is regulated by the hormone prolactin. Newly-hatched pigeons drink crop milk until they're weaned off it after four weeks or so. (And if you've ever asked yourself, "Where are all the baby pigeons?" we have the answer for you right here.)

15. ONE STUDY SUGGESTS THAT, GIVEN THE RIGHT CONDITIONS, THEY'RE AS GOOD AT IDENTIFYING CANCER AS DOCTORS.

We've already established that pigeons are excellent at differentiating between artists and words, but a 2015 study revealed they can also distinguish between malignant and benign growths in the right conditions. Researchers at University of California Davis Medical Center put 16 pigeons in a room with magnified biopsies of potential breast cancers. If the pigeons correctly identified them as either benign or malignant, they got a treat, According to Scientific American.

"Once trained, the pigeons' average diagnostic accuracy reached an impressive 85 percent. But when a "flock sourcing" approach was taken, in which the most common answer among all subjects was used, group accuracy climbed to a staggering 99 percent, or what would be expected from a pathologist. The pigeons were also able to apply their knowledge to novel images, showing the findings weren't simply a result of rote memorization."

Mammograms proved to be more of a challenge, however; the birds could memorize signs of cancer in the images they were trained on but could not identify the signs in new images.

No matter how impressive their results, "I don't anticipate that pigeons, no matter how good they become at pathology or radiology, will be playing a role in actual patient care—certainly for the foreseeable future," study co-author Richard M. Levenson told Scientific American. "There are just too many regulatory barriers—at least in the West."

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'Angry Badger' Terrorizes Scottish Castle, Forcing Closures 
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Portions of the 16th-century Craignethan Castle in Scotland were shut down last week after a less-than-friendly badger holed up there and refused to leave. Historic Environment Scotland, which manages the site in South Lanarkshire, sent out a tweet last Friday notifying visitors that the property's cellar tunnel would remain closed over the weekend “due to the presence of a very angry badger.” Staff tried to coax it out with cat food and honey, but the badger did what it wanted, and they were unable to move the mammal.

A spokesman for HES told the BBC, "The castle is surrounded by woodland and we believe the badger may have become lost. Staff first spotted some dug-out earth on Wednesday evening, and later spotted the badger on closer inspection."

On Saturday, staff used a GoPro camera to check out the tunnel from a safe distance and learned that the badger had left voluntarily, but not before making a mess. The critter dug through both soil and stonework, according to The Scotsman. The castle, an artillery fortification erected around 1530, is already partly in ruins.

Craignethan Castle in Scotland
Sandy Stevenson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Badgers are not typically dangerous, but they can become aggressive if they feel cornered or threatened. They can be seen year-round in Scotland, especially during spring and summer. Earthworms, bird eggs, small mammals, fruit, and roots are among their favorite meals, and they can even be “tempted into your garden by leaving peanuts out—a tasty snack for our striped friends,” the Scottish Wildlife Trust says.

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