Carthage’s most famous son is best known today for his tactic of marching elephants through the Alps (or possibly for having a name that rhymed with "cannibal"). But his sharp mind for tactical advantage, including the cavalry techniques that enabled him maintain a fifteen-year campaign against the Romans in Italy, weren’t the first instance of his military innovation. Hannibal was the first man in recorded history to engage in biowarfare, flinging urns full of snakes at enemy ships in the Mediterranean. Use of cavalry predates the Battle of Cannae, of course; the chariot was invented around the year 2000 B.C., and the invention of the stirrup — a profoundly simple invention with drastic world-historical effects in both Europe and Asia — meant that cavalry could ride horses directly. (Other animals, such as the Carthaginian elephant or the Arizona camel, were also used.) But Hannibal’s snakes were another technology entirely: animals not as a tool of soldiers, but as weapons themselves.

Today, biowarfare generally refers to the spread of disease-causing agents, a descendent of the practice of dropping dead animals into wells or, as the Tartars did in the 14th century, catapulting plague-ridden corpses at a besieged city. But every now and again, a true visionary emerges. What if Private 2nd-Class Norakuro weren’t just the canine hero of an early anime series but instead something real? Apes already seem almost human, so what if a general could make Tarzan’s ape army real? It sounds like something from the Ramayana, but in further proof that genius is often only degrees removed from gibbering lunacy, no lesser a figure than Josef Stalin apparently once tried to breed a half-man half-ape army of supersoldiers. There fact that Stalin apparently was unaware that humans and apes couldn’t breed is but one a reason this sort of thing is generally better left to comic book writers and collectible card game designers.

Still, if one can’t make animal soldiers, perhaps one can still make animal weapons. The K-9 Corps is a relatively recent invention, the Naval Marine Mammal Program even more so. During World War II, the Soviets trained mine-bearing dogs to charge towards German tanks by training them to associate the silhouette of tanks with being fed. Although their project met with limited success, it reportedly resulted in several hundred Nazi tanks being disabled. (Today mine dogs have a more humanitarian purpose.) World War II also brought us the possibility of pigeon-guided missiles (an idea from B.F. Skinner, pigeon wrangler par excellence, of course) and bat-launched firebombs (links via the Kircher Society). But if sticks of dynamite and canine-delivered mines don’t fill one with the proper sense of dread in a post-atomic age, there is a remaining option. In 1958, the British government drafted plans (which were never implemented), for Blue Peacock, a gigantic "nuclear mine" meant to forstall a Soviet invasion of Germany. A key question was how to ensure that parts were kept at the proper working temperature in their potentially long storage. Thus, the good boffins at the Ministry of Defense created something of which Hannibal could only have dreamed: a chicken-powered nuclear weapon. Science marches onward, sometimes on feathered or furry little feet.