Animal Heroes

Celebrate these animals that have answered the call of duty.

Throughout history, men and women have defended their countries by serving in the armed forces. But people aren't the only heroes. These critters below have also put their best foot, paw, fin, flipper, and wing forward and answered the call of duty.


The United States Navy first created the Marine Mammal Program in the 1960s to study and train dolphins, beluga whales, sea lions, and other marine mammals. A dolphin named Tuffy completed the first successful open ocean military exercise. He carried mail and tools to military personnel 200 feet underwater. Tuffy was also able to guide lost divers to safety.


Glowworms may seem unlikely heroes, but these bioluminescent invertebrates have a special power: light. Soldiers in the trenches of World War I (1914-1918) would gather the worms in jars to read maps, intelligence reports, and letters from home by their light.


The ancient Greeks, Persians, and Indians all used the mighty elephant as a sort of animal tank, terrifying and breaking the ranks of enemy troops. Elephants famously crossed over the Alps with Carthaginian general Hannibal in 218 B.C.


It’s no myth—these intelligent birds have been employed as military messengers since ancient times. Throughout World Wars I and II, United States and British forces created special pigeon service units comprising tens of thousands of birds to transmit messages. One special pigeon flew roughly 150 miles to deliver the news of the Allied troops’ landing in Normandy, France, a key event toward the end of World War II.


Also part of the U.S. Navy’s Marine Mammal Program, sea lions were trained to locate and recover military hardware dropped in the ocean. Their incredible underwater vision also makes them perfect guard dogs: They can spot an approaching enemy swimmer and alert the crew nearby.


When you hear the word “hero," a rat probably doesn’t spring to mind. But these specially trained African giant pouched rats have saved thousands of lives by detecting land mines. These hero rats sniff out the land mines and scratch at the surface to let their handlers know where one is buried. Rats are a perfect fit for the job because they're light on their feet, cover a lot of territory, and are incredibly smart.


Stubby the stump-tailed terrier worked behind enemy lines and gained military rank and honors along the way. Private Robert Conroy casually adopted the orphan pup while attending basic training on the campus of Yale University in 1917. When Conroy's unit shipped out for France during World War I, he smuggled his new friend aboard. By the time Stubby encountered Conroy's commanding officer, the dog had perfected his right-paw salute. Charmed, the CO awarded Stubby mascot status and sent him along with Conroy's unit to the Western Front. Sergeant Stubby's brave deeds earned him a place in history and in the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., where his stuffed body, decorated with war medals, can still be seen.


This king penguin is a knight! Sir Nils Olav was initially given the role of mascot of the Norwegian Guard but he quickly climbed the ranks when the Royal Guardsmen came to visit him at his home in the Edinburgh Zoo. In 2008 the King of Norway, King Harald V, bestowed the honor of a knighthood upon Nils.