Bug War

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"The historians can't seem to settle whether to call this one 'The Third Space War' (or the fourth), or whether 'The First Interstellar War' fits it better. We just call it 'The Bug War'."
Juan "Johnnie" Rico, Starship Troopers

Any war fought between humans and an insectoid race, or any other clearly inhuman enemies. Generally, the battle is at some point in The Future.

Bugs make great enemies for a fictional war for precisely the same reason that Evil Overlords give their minions face-concealing helmets: The reader or viewer is more likely to empathize with an enemy who has readable facial expressions. Making the enemy an insect or something similarly alien makes them impossible to read, which removes almost all empathy. Specifically insect-like monsters have the added benefit of triggering some fairly common phobias. Thus, the enemies can be demonized and painted as remorseless monsters with no sense of individuality, thereby assuaging the protagonist's (and hopefully the reader's) guilt over killing them.

Often, the bugs are a stand-in for whatever enemy was current at the time of writing.

Can be a quite compelling scenario, as there seems to be something primal about a determined band of humans having to stand against a living ocean of chitinous, drooling, gribbly horrors, screeching and hissing as they advance in a nightmarish tide of fangs and claws. Expect the enemy to have an incredible numerical advantage, making victory for the humans not a matter of defeating the aliens, but merely surviving. A Heroic Sacrifice or two usually comes into play if it means one of the good guys can take a load of beasties with him...and nuking the site from orbit may be the only real option. If worse comes to worst, it may be Better to Die Than Be Killed, lest you end up with a Face Full of Alien Wingwong.

Compare Robot War, Big Creepy-Crawlies, Starfish Aliens and Hive Caste System (which tends to be used by nearly all Bee People with another concept of role specialization which may make them a Keystone Army). Usually a Horde of Alien Locusts. Commonly uses Guilt-Free Extermination War.

Examples of Bug War include:

Anime and Manga

  • The Space Monsters in Gunbuster are this taken to Kaiju proportions at least—at most, we're talking minor Eldritch Abomination type entities.
  • The Blue of Blue Gender.
  • A major element of the overall series plot of the Anime El-Hazard: The Magnificent World is an extended war between the human lands of El-Hazard and a race of giant insects called the Bugrom.
  • Subverted in the anime Martian Successor Nadesico, in which the "Jovian lizards" turned out to be human space colonists. The government didn't need drugs, however, as the colonists were few in number and thus fought using remote drones.
  • Subverted to hell and gone in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Despite being gigantic, hideous bugs that crush anything in their path and spread spores of killer fungus that swallow up cities and spew poison gas, the Ohmu come off as being more sympathetic than half the human cast. The main character even tries to save a baby Ohmu.
  • The Vajra of Macross Frontier. However, in classic Macross fashion the solution to the conflict comes not in the humans destroying the Vajra but in understanding them. Oh, and in destroying the third party that was manipulating both sides.
  • The Invid in Robotech: New Generation/Genesis Climber MOSPEADA with their hive structure, buggish mecha, and slug-like appearance (until they started making human ones that look like supermodels, anyway).
  • The Andromeda Flow Country from Getter Robo.Range from humanoid to just large versions of Earth insects, though no two of them look alike. Curiously, they seem to lack a Hive Mind. It turns out they are Well Intentioned Extremists.
  • The Skrugg from Heroman
  • Subverted in Spider Riders. This trope is clearly how the humans see the Invectids, but the Invectids are actually individuals with hopes and dreams and families of their own, who believe they're fighting for a good cause. The Invectids unfortunately don't realize that their leader is an Omnicidal Maniac. Also subverted since the humans are, per the title riding around on giant sentient spiders who are completely sympathetic.
  • One Piece: Usopp's training on Boin Archipelago involved a little of this. Namely, fighting his way out a horde of giant carnivorous beetles.

Comic Books

  • Dan Abnett and Richard Elson's Kingdom follows a group of genetically modified dogs as the fight giant praying mantises who have wiped out most of humanity.
  • Marvel's Annihilation event.

Fan Works

  • Played Straight In Aeon Entelechy Evangelion where a recently heavily damaged Harbinger-4 Eshmun hatches a small army of mini-versions of itself right on the battlefield. Subverted with the Migou, who like in Aeon Natum Engel, are simply better than humanity, and the only reason they don't curb stomp the Earth is because they are afraid to wake up something much worse.


  • One of the best known examples is the titular creatures of the Alien films. The Aliens are freakishly inhuman, and are even mistakenly referred to as "bugs" in the second film, Aliens, which was widely inspired by Starship Troopers. Here, the facelessness of the Aliens also added to their scariness.
    • In Aliens, Hudson even asks "Is this gonna be a standup fight, sir, or another bughunt?" before going on the ill-fated mission to LV-426. Also, the Marines have a logo on their landing craft that depicts an eagle with boots stomping on an insect, with the tag line "Bugstompers - We endanger species".
  • The insectile design the xenomorphs from the Alien series strongly influenced the third edition Tyranids of Warhammer 40,000, the Zerg of StarCraft and the Brood of X-Men.
  • The original Bug War movie (and the other notable source for Aliens): the giant ants of Them
  • District 9 - The violent insectoid aliens seem at first to be mindless beasts. As the film develops we get to see how their circumstances are working against them. Through the character of Christopher an his child we gain a sympathetic viewpoint. It is an interesting exercise to view the film with and without subtitles: it shows how characters lacking a mammalian face are working uphill.
  • Played with in Battle: Los Angeles, where the aliens are very clearly inhuman and brutally ruthless, but retain enough humanlike characteristics (such as caring for wounded, taking cover, using intelligent tactics and hand signals, etc.) that the similarities between them and the Marines becomes disturbingly apparent. At one point, one of the Marines asks another if he thinks the aliens were like them: just grunts who really had no idea what was going on, but given orders and sent to fight.


  • The Trope Namer is Robert A. Heinlein's 1959 novel Starship Troopers, in which human soldiers battle a race of giant pseudo-arachnids (and their humanoid allies, the Skinnies).
  • Robert Lynn Asprin's The Bug Wars hits all the standard points of this trope, with one major subversion: the bugs are being fought by a race of grim humanoid lizards, the action all taking place countless years before human civilization arises.
  • The Codex Alera books by Jim Butcher have an encroaching bug enemy called the Vord.
  • In the Dresden Files, also by Jim Butcher, there are several somewhat-literal examples; Harry in major battles with ghouls, the Vampire War, a legion of fae spiders and Grey Men that appeared in the climactic battle of Turn Coat, and several other examples.
  • Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game explores the trope. The Buggers kill quite a few of us, but that was only because they considered them to be equivalent to fellow drones. When the Buggers realize that all humans are sentient (only Bugger queens are sentient and even then, not the physical queen but some "Philotic being" connected to her, the rest are mindless drones and workers whose lives aren't considered at all important) and that their own attempts at first contact were really murder on a massive scale they freak the hell out and completely withdraw. Since at this point Buggers and Humans still haven't figured out a way to communicate, the humans think that they're just pulling back to regroup, and launch a devastating counterattack that drives the species to extinction except for one egg.
  • Those From Nowhere - In French, Ceux de nulle part written by Francis Carsac.[1] The book twice subverts the trope. First, the human protagonist makes contact with a race of Green skinned space elves (the Hiss) that is fighting a losing war against the "Misliks", metallic bugs who can only exist in absolute zero and are therefore extinguishing every star in the whole universe. When the protagonist manages to make telepathic contact with a Mislik "war prisoner", it appears that he cannot understand any part of the Mislik's mind except its feelings: basically, the bug does not understand what one + one = two means, but it feels sad, alone, and frightened because it is far away from its kin. The second subversion comes from the fact that the green aliens have founded a "league of human worlds": basically, for them, the concept of humanity covers any intelligent species who would rather live under a star than in a frozen universe: so, if you happen to be a giant spider who enjoys the warmth of your homeworld sun, congratulations, you are "human". Actually, the Hiss would probably consider anything to be "human" enough to be worthy of an alliance proposal, so, in order to fight bugs with emotions but a strong dislike of sunlight, the Hiss are ready to form alliances with other bugs who are not offended by sunlight. The book predates Starship Troopers by five years.
  • First played straight and later subverted in the fantasy novels of Raymond E. Feist. In Magician, the Tsurunuanni Empire sometimes unleashes an ant-like insectoid race called the Cho-Ja on the battlefield, and they're played as horrifyingly effective inhuman killing machines. Later, in the Empire trilogy that he co-wrote with Janny Wurts, we see that the Cho-Ja are intelligent beings, and that their culture is more fair and just than the Tsurani humans they live amongst.
  • Subverted in Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth series, where humans allied with the Thranx. Thranx are insectile—they have an exoskeleton, eight limbs. They are, in essence, good guys. Human ally with the Thranx a against an evil species that looks perfectly human, and a highly humanoid reptilian species. Although humans did have some instinctive abhorrence about allying with the buglike Thranx, to their surprise they find more "human" decency in the bugs than the humanoids.
  • The Rowan series by Anne McCaffrey involves a Bug War fought with Psychic Powers.
  • Played straight in John Steakley's Armor, to the point where the war with the Ants is referred to as "a Bug War".
  • The novels In Death Ground and The Shiva Option had humans and various alien allies fighting Hive Mind Bugs that fit this trope perfectly and which, for added horror, prefer to eat sentient beings.
  • Even though it was not a science fiction story, the short story "Leiningen Versus the Ants" is about just that: Leiningen and his plantation crew fighting an army of millions of ants. Although the ants were only a little bigger than normal ones, they could still strip an elk to the bone in six minutes.
  • The war against the Hive in Tour of the Merrimack. The Hive aren't precisely insectoid in appearance, but they fit in the sense of being an endless horde of mindless chitinous horrors which exist only to eat.
  • The Insects in Andrey Livadny's The History of the Galaxy series are human-sized upright-walking, well, insects who achieve a unique form of a Hive Mind via their natural Psychic Powers. While each Insect is sentient, the hive can mentally "de-evolve" any number of Insects to drone-like level when an army or a large workforce is required. This ability also influenced their science and technology. Due to the cheap workforce, they never had to develop cybernetic organisms and, thus, have no Humongous Mecha or androids. While there has only been one actual Bug War (on a Lost Colony between human and Insect descendants of the original colonists), several novels involve conflicts between humans and Insects with hints that one is inevitable. Unfortunately for humanity, the Insects far outnumber humans (and "de-evolved" drones don't value their lives), and several hives are attempting to learn how to use human cybernetics against them. Fortunately, humans far outclass the Insects in space and ground combat in the technological capacity.
    • Averted with the friendly Insects who are not only cooperating with humans but have petitioned to be accepted into the Confederacy of Suns. These are individuals who have not formed a Hive Mind due to millions of years of being slaves. While it is impossible for humans to read their "facial" expressions, the fact that they communicate telepathically allows humans to know what the Insects are feeling much better than body language would show.
  • Averted in Sergey Lukyanenko's Genome with the Czygu, whose females could, at first glance, pass for small human girls. Only by looking closer you will find that they're Bee People and that the "breasts" are actually pseudopodi. This can allow Czygu, with some minor plastic surgery, to infiltrate humanity. While there is no Bug War in the book, one is about to start, if the protagonist doesn't solve the murder mystery in time.
  • In Nick Perumov's Empire Above All dualogy, German Nation (a futuristic German Empire/Third Reich) and communist guerrillas wage war with mysterious insectoid Biomorphs. It is later revealed that Biomorphs are actually a result of human experiments and were used deliberately.

Live-Action TV

  • Space: Above and Beyond.
  • Several episodes of The Outer Limits played this straight, but the episode "Hearts and Minds" subverts it by having the "bugs" turn out to be humans from a rival corporation; the soldiers had been drugged to see the enemy as disgusting aliens so that they would feel fewer qualms about killing them.
    • The soldiers from the rival corporation were similarly drugged.
  • An almost identical plot is used in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Nemesis".
    • The Xindi Insectoids from Star Trek: Enterprise are basically giant sentient ants.
    • Subverted In Star Trek: Voyager with Species 8472, who have a mind very similar to humans'. It's just the appearance difference which led to conflict (and the fact that their first contact was with the Borg)
    • The Borg were originally intended to be a bug race. They ended up as humanoid cyborgs largely because it was easier on the special effects budget. They retained many aspects of this trope though. They've got the Hive Mind, and although they do have faces, they're always set in a soulless blank stare.
  • In Star Fleet the Imperial Alliance Mooks are humanoid termites, and many of their spaceship designs are bug themed.
  • Lexx often mentions the Great Insect Wars of millennia past. The so-called Insect Civilization was a race of intelligent, moon-sized woodlice who could shrug off direct hits from a Planet Killer, but their human opponents were more resourceful and less predictable.
  • The primary enemy of the second Spellsinger book, The Hour at the Gate, are the Plated Folk, insectoid invaders. Given this is a world of anthropomorphic mammals and birds, the insect invaders are seen as truly horrible, although that doesn't stop the heroes from allying with the Spinners, giant sentient spiders.
  • Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis both have some elements of this, although neither is a perfect match for the trope.
    • In Stargate SG-1, the Replicators are first introduced as an insectoid techno-organic Hive Mind that have nearly overwhelmed the Asgard. Being made up of a sort of alien legos, they aren't particularly chitinous or drooling, but they are as implacable and tenacious as anything else on this page. Their default form looks like a large spider. Later in the series they develop humanoid variants, but still use insectoid forms for most combat and work.
    • In Stargate Atlantis, the Wraith are vampiric Rubber Forehead Aliens, but it's eventually revealed that they were originally insects that became humanoid after feeding on humans.
    • The Re'tu play this one straight, being invisible human-sized spiders. Because of their invisibility, most have been hunted and wiped out by the Goa'uld using a device that can make them visible. Of the remaining ones, a radical faction of them has decided to wipe out every human civilization in order to prevent the Goa'uld from getting more hosts. Their weapons include an energy gun of some sort and a small bomb that has the power of a mini-nuke. They are only present in one episode but are mentioned almost every time an invisible assailant has infiltrated their ranks.
  • Falling Skies: The bug like alien race are the ones using the most advance tech, along with biological technologies.
  • The Discovery channels, mostly Science Channel and Animal Planet have "Killer Bug Wars" documenting real life insect vs insect wars.


Tabletop Games

  • The Aeon War in Cthulhu Tech started against the Migou, fungoid insect-things for whom Pluto is a part of their empire. Somewhat unusual in that the Migou are individually sentient, smarter than humanity, and view the destruction of humanity as something akin (ironically) to squashing an oversized bug. The Rapine Storm also can come under this category, as their forces as split between Eldritch Abominations and Reaver-like cultists.
  • Tech Infantry was inspired by Armor and Starship Troopers, so of course it has an endless Bug War against insectoid aliens based upon, but even scarier and more powerful than those in Starship Troopers.
  • One of the many, many conflicts that the Imperium of Man of Warhammer 40K infamy is embroiled in is a constant galaxy-wide Bug War with the Tyranids, a planet-eating Horde of Alien Locusts who appear be biologically engineered, with some traits of now extinct species, suggesting they assimilate traits from devoured biomass.
  • The Fourth Interstellar War in Starfire, between all the civilized races and the Arachnids.
  • Monsterpocalypse later introduces the Savage Swarm.
  • 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars, starring Omnicidal Maniac humans, is a BIG deconstruction of this trope.


  • Bionicle has had two: one against the prematurely released Bohrok hordes on the island of Mata Nui and another against the Visorak. The Visorak would eventually be wiped out during the Karda Nui arc when the artifact that called them together is brought onto a volatile volcanic island.

Video Games

  • So many video games. Galaga, Defender, Silpheed (PlayStation 2) to name just a few. Even Space Invaders are buglike.
  • The Scrin from Command & Conquer are bug race of the three, since their army is made of robotic/biological insectoid units. They came here not to consume us but to turn the planet to a source of Tiberium, which is vital for them. It is the Tiberium itself that would have consumed us. They didn't see Kane coming, though...
    • For a more literal example, Command & Conquer: Red Alert had a hidden campaign that pit you against Giant Ants.
  • Jet Force Gemini. Most (if not all) of the enemies in this game are giant color coded bugs.
  • The conflict between the Terrans and the Zerg in the RTS game StarCraft is a classic Bug War.
  • Starflight series—Somewhat averted: the Veloxi are not very nasty to anyone, but they do charge tolls for flying through their space. Not paying the toll obviously results in a hostile encounter. They also dislike you removing artifacts from planets in their space and not handing them back over. However, that is not what qualifies the aversion. The fact they are in possession of world-destroying bombs they revere as godly artifacts is. Kind of makes you wonder how this even began. They will beat the crap out of you for being bad at maths, as six is a sacred number to them, and their security measures are programmed with this in mind.
    • One wonders what kind of mayhem and carnage would ensue should they encounter the Doog or K'tang Kattori of Star Control 3, both of whom are flying well below Bell's curve for much of their race.
  • The PC game Vivisector: Beast Within had a normal marine fighting against a legion of cybernetically and genetically enhanced biological mash ups at war with your fellow soldiers... though the trope is subverted, not only due to the fact that the marine switches sides to fight with the beasts against the humans, but the creatures you're fighting were created for your XO (some of which he promptly sends after you when you defect), and you're fighting them to help him regain control of them.
  • Lost Planet has the ferocious Akrid, whom range from tiny fliers to massive worms and Eldritch Abominations. They were strong enough to completely ruin mankind's first colonization attempt on their native planet, which eventually led to the wars seen in the main story of Extreme Condition.
  • Mass Effect has the Rachni War. Unlike many examples, the morality of wiping them all out because they're insects is in doubt - the rachni were intelligent enough to build spacecraft, after all - and later on you get the opportunity to choose to save or kill the surviving rachni queen.
    • Furthermore, it's revealed that the rachni fought the war because Sovereign compelled them to, using a "sour note from space" (basically, he indoctrinated them). In fact, if you save the queen, she'll promise in the second game to aid you against the Reapers.
      • However, in Mass Effect 3, the queen ends up being captured by the Reapers, who turn her children into husks; you'll have to save her again before she can make good on her promise.
    • If you didn't save the queen in Mass Effect 1, the Reapers will simply construct an artificial queen in order to produce rachni that can be converted into husks; unlike her natural-born counterpart, she's thoroughly indoctrinated and will sabotage the war effort if you choose to spare her.
  • Used and subverted in Alien Syndrome, the truth was revealed that in the end, the alien queen was very much capable of human thought and emotions and that the reason for the bugs/aliens was due to a failed experiment and that the entire war was a means of an elaborate suicide as she can't take the fact of being the sole survivor of a civilization that was driven to extinction.
  • Metroid has the Space Pirates, which almost all resemble insects (to varying degrees, depending on the game), and their society and habits described in the Metroid Prime series is often compared to that of insects. To be entirely fair to the franchise, though, it predates many of the examples listed on this page.
    • Technically, the insectoid nature of the Pirates wasn't established until Super Metroid; before, they were never seen.
  • The Conduit appears to be one of these. Later, it is revealed that they're actually clones as part of a secret Government Conspiracy run by aliens.
  • The Thalan Empire in Galactic Civilizations are pretty much a bug race. However they are not malicious, just very suspicious that Humanity's obtainment of the hyperdrive may lead to The End of the World as We Know It. They subvert bug race style personalities as they are limited in number and very high tech.
  • Although it is a fantasy setting, World of Warcraft has one in its backstory (the War of the Shifting Sands), with the trolls (and then the night elves) fighting the Aqir/Qiraji/Silithids, insectoid races created and led by C'thun, an Old God. In WOW, they're back and the players have to attack their main base, Ahn'Qiraj.
  • A unique case in Conquest: Frontier Wars. The Terrans alone have no chance in winning against the Mantis. However the Mantis are in civil war, so the Terrans decide to aid the rebel Mantis Warlord against the usurpur Queen to save Earth.
  • Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic combines this with Legions of Hell to produce the Shadow Demons.
  • In the backstory of Sword of the Stars, first contact for humanity (in modern times) were with the Hivers, a race of intelligent Insectoid Aliens, and it was hostile. The battle was more a case of a Hiver fleet bombarding Earth from orbit until humanity's combined nuclear missile stockpile chased them off. It became subverted when humanity reached to the stars and started merrily killing every Hiver they came across in revenge: The Hivers (like humans) aren't united, and Earth had essentially been hit by a Hiver equivalent of The Remnant. By the time humanity sued for peace over the misunderstanding, they had already pissed off several (otherwise innocent) Hiver clans with (from their POV) unprovoked attacks. Human/Hiver relations are described as somewhat chilly as a result.
    • The Hivers also differ from typical insects in that, besides Queens and Princesses, they also have high-ranking males called Princes, who are the fathers and generals of the clans. According to a short story by the game's writer, a lower-ranking male Hiver can earn his Prince wings by merit, but many are simply born Princes.
      • Technically, all Princes are born. It's just that the Hivers' unique biology allows a Queen to consume the body of a heroic fallen Hiver and copy his genetic memories into a new egg.
  • Entomorph Plague Of The Darkfall is another example in a fantasy setting. Unlike most examples, the different species of insect each has their own territory and internal politics with one another. The Main character eventually must become an insect creature himself to fight them.

Web Comics

Web Originals

Western Animation

  • Z from Antz survived a war with termites. The character's faces are highly anthropomorphic.
  • Spoofed in Family Guy where exterminators act like action movie soldiers.
  • The 80s version of the G.I. Joe cartoon climaxed in a movie that revealed that the true power behind COBRA was really an ancient culture called "Cobra-La" made up of snake/insect humanoids.
  • Spoofed in the Futurama episode War is the H-Word, where the enemy is a race of bouncing balls. The episode Three Hundred Big Boys takes place after a Bug War against a planet of giant spiders, with the resulting surplus being distributed among the populace. A planet of (presumably) peaceful giant spiders.
    • Both examples are Deconstructions in that humans are the evil alien invaders. In the ball example, they don't even have a clear motivation beyond ball genocide.
  • The second season finale of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic features the Changelings, insectoid ponies with the ability to change their forms, appearing out of nowhere to consume the love created from the wedding.

Real Life

  • A small scale version is when pest exterminators kill ants, termites, hornets and the like.
  • Ant-colony-on-ant-colony wars happen all the time, complete with raids and the taking of slaves!
  • On Earth, insects are one of the most successful species on earth, being made up of an estimated six to ten million species, making up between half and 90% of the entire animal kingdom, and living in nearly every environment on the planet.
  • The Crazy Rasberry Ants (no, not a misspelling of "Raspberry," but instead named for the first exterminator in Texas to tangle with them, Tom Rasberry) are becoming a major problem in Texas. First introduced to Houston in 2002 via an infestation in a cargo ship, they have since spread to fifteen Texan counties and have reached San Antonio [dead link]. If you thought fire ants were bad, these bugs have the potential to be an ecological and civil disaster; not only do they infest areas by the billions (they have 40 queens for every 1000 ants), nearly all pesticides are ineffective and they avoid baits. They've been known to irritate and drive off animals as well as take over honeybee hives and attack pollinating insects (very bad for the ecosystem). Even worse, they are attracted to electronics and will destroy computers, vehicle equipment, air conditioning, and just about anything using electricity. They've even threatened the NASA complex in Houston. As Tom Rasberry himself put it, "These ants pose a clear and present danger to our way of life, and the time for real action was years ago."
  • Watch any episode of Monsters Inside Me, and you'll realize that the human species has always been engaged in a Bug War (and a Worm War, and a Protozoan War): it's just being fought on a microscopic scale, so it isn't as photogenic.
  • Botanists and dendrologists (scientists who specifically study trees) are at war with several species of bark beetles, one such being the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle from Asia that was accidentally introduced to North America in 1998 and has been responsible for killing billions of ash trees in the midwestern United States and bordering Ontario, Canada. Ironically, one idea that scientists have developed in order to control the population of this insect is by introducing another species of insect - several species of parasitic wasps to be specific.
  1. an alias of François Bordes, a prominent figure of paleontology