Help! These Beetles Don’t Wanna Hold Your Hand

I woke up early this morning in a cold sweat after a bad dream. It’s those dang mosquitoes I read about last night. Actually, it’s not just any mosquito; it’s the new and improved mosquito.

I am not afraid of mosquitoes. I am not fond of them either, but I do respect the role they play in nature. Since I was young I’ve had an interest in entomology, so most of my life I’ve been around six-legged critters, including mosquitoes, of which there’s something like 3,500 described species. The larvae and adults provide a bounteous supply of food for a variety of animals, including birds, bats, and fish. However, it’s a fact that we humans don’t like any animal that sucks our blood. It doesn’t matter if it has six legs or two legs (I have daughters, so I know all about Edward and Bella from Twilight fame). But these mosquitoes from my dream are completely different from your everyday mosquitoes.

You’re probably wondering how a mosquito can be improved. Depends on who you ask. According to an article in Daily Tech, researchers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency hope to grow insect nerves into silicon computer chip connections to allow real insects to be remote controlled like remote-controlled airplanes. But the more realistic approach is the fully robotic type. Of course, when it comes to the government, there are lots of “I can’t confirm or deny that we’re doing this,” which everyone knows always means, “Yes, we’re doing this.”

But the more important question you’re probably asking yourself is why anyone would want to improve one of those blood suckers. Apparently, the U.S. government is developing new types of flying machines for the purposes of national defense. These machines are basically mini-drones—six-legged, two-winged flying machines called micro aerial vehicles, or “MAVs” for short. One version looks like a mosquito. And believe it or not, just like the real mosquito, it sucks. But not to feed. Apparently, future models will be able to pierce the enemy’s skin and take a DNA sample. Or worse, these diminutive drones, these minute minions of the military may be able to—at least in theory—leave behind something more than a welt on an opponent’s skin: radio-frequency identification tracking nanotechnology that’s capable of keeping tabs on an unsuspecting victim’s movements. You can run, but you can’t hide! It’s not fool-proof, of course. Just like the real mosquito, the robotic version could be swatted, squished, and squelched (though “squelch” takes on new meaning for these radio-controlled suckers).

Apparently, another insect on the list of MAVs is the beetle. Big deal, you may be saying to yourself. But it is. We have a framed beetle specimen from Africa in our home that has an impressive set of jaws and a wingspan of eight inches. If the military could do to the robotic beetle what it does to members of Seal Team 6, you not only have a formidable opponent that fights on sea, air and land, but one with the added bonus of some very large mandibles capable of making mincemeat of hostile forces. Kind of scary when you think about a battalion of beetles advancing from the air with absolutely no fear of death—because they’re not alive to begin with. I can almost hear Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries.”

If you ever encounter these MAVs, you will want to shout “Help!” Make no mistake, these beetles do not want to hold your hand, nor do they love you, yeah, yeah, yeah. No, they’re out to wreak havoc.

Think about the benefits of these tiny flying machines in fighting the war on terrorism. According to one source cited in a recent National Geographic article, these MAVs, or “entomopters” as they are also called, could look for Al-Qaeda operatives inside caves or other hideouts. But who really knows all of the applications for these MAVs? So the next time you see a mosquito, beetle, or any suspicious-looking six-legged creature buzzing around you, before you squish it or reach for a can of Raid, carefully consider what you’re up against. Sure, you may successfully squish it or spray it out of commission, but remember this: there’s more—many more—where it came from.