5 Fascinating Animals That Served in the Military

iStock / ilbusca
iStock / ilbusca

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

10 Juicy Facts About Leeches

Ian Cook
Ian Cook

Leeches get a bad rap, but they’re actually pretty cool once you get to know them—and we're finding out more about them, even today. Recently, a team led by Anna Phillips, curator of parasitic worms at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, discovered a new species of medicinal leech (pictured above) in a Maryland swamp. We asked parasite expert and curator at the American Museum of Natural History Mark E. Siddall to share some surprising facts about the worms we love to hate. 

1. Not all leeches suck blood.

Hematophagous, or blood-feeding, species are only one type of leech. “The vast majority of species are [hematophagous],” Siddall tells Mental Floss, “but it depends on the environment. In North America, there are probably more freshwater leeches that don’t feed on blood than there are blood-feeders.” And even among the hematophagous species, there are not too many who are after you. “Very few of them are interested in feeding on human blood,” Siddall says. “Certainly they’ll do it, if they’re given the opportunity, but they’re not what they’re spending most of their time feeding on.” 

2. Leeches are everywhere.

Japanese leech on a log
Pieria, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

“Every continent on the planet has leeches, with the exception of Antarctica,” Siddall says. “And even then there are marine leeches in Antarctic waters.” Humans have co-existed with leeches for so long, according to Siddall, that just about every language has a word for leech. 

3. Leeches have made a comeback in medicine.

Bloodletting for bloodletting’s sake has fallen out of favor with Western physicians, but that doesn’t mean medicinal leeches are enjoying a cushy retirement. Today, surgeons keep them on hand in the operating room and use them as mini-vacuums to clean up blood. “That is a perfectly sensible use of leeches,” Siddall says. Other uses, though, are less sensible: “The more naturopathic application of leeches in order to get rid of bad blood or to cure, I don’t know, whatever happens to ail you, is complete hooey,” he says. How on Earth would leeches take away bad blood and leave good blood? It’s silly.” 

4. Novelist Amy Tan has her own species of leeches.

Land-based leeches made an appearance in Tan’s 2005 book Saving Fish from Drowning, a fact that instantly put the author in leech researchers’ good graces. “There are not a lot of novels out there with terrestrial leeches in them,” Siddall says. So when he and his colleagues identified a new species of tiny terrestrial leeches, they gave the leech Tan’s name. The author loved it. “I am thrilled to be immortalized as Chtonobdella tanae,” Tan said in a press statement. “I am now planning my trip to Queensland, Australia, where I hope to take leisurely walks through the jungle, accompanied by a dozen or so of my namesake feeding on my ankles.”

5. Leeches can get pretty big.

The giant Amazon leech (Haementeria ghilianii) can grow up to 18 inches and live up to 20 years. And yes, this one’s a blood-feeder. Like all hematophagous species, H. ghilianii sticks its proboscis (which can be up to 6 inches long) into a host, drinks its fill, and falls off. Scientists thought the species was extinct until a zoologist found two specimens in the 1970s, one of whom he named Grandma Moses. We are not making this up.

6. Leeches make good bait.

Many walleye anglers swear by leeches. “A leech on any presentation moves more than other types of live bait," pro fisher Jerry Hein told Fishing League Worldwide. "I grew up fishing them, and I think they're the most effective live bait around no matter where you go." There’s an entire leech industry to provide fishers with their bait. One year, weather conditions kept the leeches from showing up in their typical habitats, which prevented their collection and sale. Speaking to CBS news, one tackle shop owner called the absence of leeches “the worst nightmare in the bait industry.”

7. Leech scientists use themselves as bait.

Siddall and his colleagues collect and study wild leeches. That means hours of trekking through leech territory, looking for specimens. “Whether we’re wandering in water or traipsing through a bamboo forest,” Siddall says, “we are relying on the fact that leeches are attracted to us.” Do the leeches feed on them? “Oh my god, yes. We try to get them before they feed on us … but sometimes, obviously, you can’t help it.”

8. Leech sex is mesmerizing.

Like many worms, leeches are all hermaphroditic. The specifics of mating vary by species, but most twine themselves together and trade sperm packets. (The two leeches in the video above are both named Norbert.)

9. Some leech species make surprisingly caring parents. 

“There’s a whole family of leeches that, when they lay their eggs, will cover them with their own bodies,” Siddall says. “They’ll lay the eggs, cover them with their bodies, and fan the eggs to prevent fungus or bacteria from getting on them, and then when the eggs hatch, they will attach to the parent. They’re not feeding on the parent, just hanging on, and then when the parent leech goes to its next blood meal it’s carrying its offspring to its next blood meal. That’s pretty profound parental care, especially for invertebrates.”

10. You might be the next to discover a new leech species. 

Despite living side-by-side with leeches for thousands of years, we’ve still got a lot to learn about them. Scientists are aware of about 700 different species, but they know there are many more out there. “I’ll tell you what I wish for,” Siddall says. “If you ever get fed on by a leech, rather than tearing off and burning it and throwing it in the trash, maybe observe it and see if you can see any color patterns. Understand that there’s a real possibility that it could be a new species. So watch them, let them finish. They’re not gonna take much blood. And who knows? It could be scientifically useful.”

Fish Tube: How the 'Salmon Cannon' Works and Why It's Important

PerfectStills/iStock via Getty Images
PerfectStills/iStock via Getty Images

If you’ve been on the internet at any point in the past week, you’ve certainly come across footage of wildlife conservationists stuffing salmon into a giant plastic tube and shuttling them over obstacles. It’s so bizarre—even by the already loose standards of the web—that it briefly ignited discussions over fish welfare, its purpose, and the seeming desire of people to be similarly transported through a pneumatic tunnel into a new life.

Naturally, the “salmon cannon” has a mission beyond amusing the internet. The system was created by Whooshh Innovations, a company that essentially adopted the same kind of transportation system featuring pressurized tubing that's used in banking. Initially, the system was intended to transport fruit over long distances without bruising. At some point, engineers figured they could do the same for fish.

The fish payload is secured at the entrance of the tube—acceptable species can weigh up to 34 pounds—and moves through a smooth, soft plastic tube that conforms to their body shape. Air pressure behind them keeps them moving. The fish are jettisoned between 16 and 26 feet per second to a new location, where they emerge relatively unscathed. Because there’s no need for a water column, the tubing can cover most terrain at virtually any height.

The tubing solution is a human answer to a human problem: dams. With fish largely confined to still bodies of water thanks to dams and facing obstacles swimming upstream to migrate and spawn, fish need some kind of assistance. In the past, “fish ladders” have helped fish move upstream by providing ascending steps they can flop on, but not all fish can navigate such terrain. Another system, trapping and hauling fish like cargo, results in disoriented fish who can even forget how to swim. The Whooshh system, which has been in used in Washington state for at least five years, allows for expedient fish export with an injury rate as little as 3 percent, although study results have varied.

The video features manual insertion of the fish. In the wild, Whooshh counts on fish making semi-voluntary entries into the tubing. Once they swim into an enclosure, they’re curious enough about the tube to go inside.

If all goes well, the system could help salmon be reintroduced to the Upper Columbia River in Washington, where the population has been depleted by dams. Testing of the device there is awaiting approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

[h/t Popular Mechanics]

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