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Animal Espionage

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The most adorable agent on the US government's payroll.

"Carl, remind me again why all the agents are animals."
Major Monogram, Phineas and Ferb

Spying on people is an activity carried out by humans, but it can also be carried out by animals. These animals can have implants allowing for communication, be sapient or not sapient, and maybe even have chips that allow you to record what they see. The animals can be trained, used as tools by the humans, or could be doing it for their own purposes.

For Carrier Pigeons, see Instant Messenger Pigeon. Supertrope to Literal Surveillance Bug and Stealthy Cephalopod. If a character does this by using the eyes of the animal, it's Animal Eye Spy.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Batman foe Ratcatcher uses his trained rats as spies and messengers.
  • Captain America: The Falcon sometimes uses Redwing, the falcon he's empathically bonded with, to discretely monitor people from a distance. Given Redwing's naturally excellent vision, this works extremely well. Layer, he finds he can extend this connection to any bird, granting him the most extensive spy network in the world.
  • "Golden Eyes" and Her Hero "Bill": Uncle Sam, the trusty Canine Companion to Golden Eyes, can be counted among the ranks of animal spies. In the span of an evening, he alerts American troops to the position of an American POW in a German camp, ferries secret messages between Golden Eyes and the American side, knocks out the German officer who threatened Golden Eyes, and makes sure that the intelligence Golden Eyes stole from the unconscious officer gets back to the allies. Good boy!
  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Doreen Green a.k.a. Squirrel Girl can communicate with squirrels and persuade them to scout for her, among other things. A later villain, Melissa Morbeck, utilizes microchip technology that uplifts and mind-controls animals to obey her commands. She primarily uses this to make them her spies, stealing highly proprietary technology from people like Tony Stark.

    Fan Works 

    Film — Animation 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Ant-Man shows Hank Pym applying his control over ants and shrinking technology to sneak in cameras and tools through secure lines without detection.
  • Cats & Dogs uses this trope a lot, with the cats as villainous spies and the dogs as heroic secret agents.
  • The Field Guide to Evil: In "The Cobbler's Lot", Princess Boglarka sends her pet raven to spy on Tivadar on his quest to see if he succumbs to the temptations of the loosestrife pool.
  • G-Force has sentient guinea pigs that are spies.
  • In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring films, the Fellowship takes cover from a massive flock of crows, correctly surmising that Saruman is using them as spies.
  • In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Belloq and the Nazis employ a monkey to try and spy on Indy. It doesn't entirely work, since the monkey eats a poison date, which in turn causes Sallah to stop Indy doing the same, thus saving his life.
  • The Spy With A Cold Nose was a British film made in 1966 in which a dog with a radio transmitter in its collar was given as a gift to the Russian Premier.

    Literature 
  • Referred to in passing, and for comedy, during the Alex Rider series. Joe Byrne claims that the CIA tried installing a cat in the Korean embassy with a bugged collar, but the Koreans ate it. Byrne being Byrne, it's not clear if he was joking.
  • Animorphs: Most of the team's non-combat morphs are for this purpose, and in time manage to get the hang of a morph's senses (especially insects) well enough to understand what's being said. The Yeerks catch on to this, and take great care to kill any insect or animal that enters their facilities.
  • Andre Norton's The Beast Master novels. Hosteen Storm has telepathic/empathic links with four animal companions — the meerkats Hing and Ho, the African Black Eagle Baku and the sand cat Surra. He regularly uses them as spies/observers.
  • In the Dr. Watson At War series by Robert Ryan, T. E. Lawrence thinks the Germans have a spy in the room where he's drawing up maps for the Allied armies. Watson spends the night staking out the map room, but all he gets is a Cat Scare when he interrupts a cat rummaging in a waste basket for food. Afterwards however, he suggests to Lawrence that a cat might be trained to retrieve waste paper before it's put in the incinerator.
  • In Fairy Oak Tomelilla mentions it's quite probable that the emissaries of the Enemy transform themselves into animals to do this, cue a class on animal behavior and characteristics that Magicals can't imitate. The taste of cow milk is one of them, apparently.
  • In Guards! Guards!, Patrician Vetinari somehow manages to make an arrangement with the rats after being imprisoned. In return for him helping them, they will bring him news as to what is happening, both in terms of papers and gossip. It's implied that they were a result of the Unseen University's experiments, which is how they are so useful.
  • Harry Potter: Invoked. Animagi can turn themselves into animals so as to go around without attracting suspicion as a human, though there's always an element to the disguise that identifies their human form. In Rita Skeeter's case, she turns into a literal surveillance bug (a beetle). This causes Bellatrix Lestrange to kill a fox at one point, as she believed it to be an auror... except in this case it genuinely was a fox.
  • In the Heralds of Valdemar series, the creatively-named ability of Animal Mindspeech is frequently used this way, allowing its users to take advantage of an Animal Eye Spy and sometimes even direct the animals to the appropriate place first.
  • The dwarfs of Middle Earth in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit find an old crow who once served Thorin's grandfather, as at that time, dwarfs could speak with various birds. Thorin is able to use the crow to get a thorough analysis of the Five Armies marching toward Lonely Mountain: which races, how many, which direction, and distance from target. Bilbo Baggins also hears this report, and it moves him to take remedial action.
  • This is the reason that Jabberjays were created in The Hunger Games. People figured this out, though, and began giving the birds Red Herrings to throw off President Snow.
  • In The Immortals, Daine uses her animal magic primarily for this, since she can speak to animals, share their bodies, and later transform into one. She gets away with it in part because wild magic is assumed by most to be an old wives' tale, but as she becomes more famous her enemies wise up and start noticing things like squirrels reading maps or animals where they shouldn't be.
  • In Search of Dorothy has a heroic example in Trisha the Good Witch of the South, who communicates with butterflies that warn her of any impending danger.
  • In The Jeremiah School, the Big Bad Lucien Morgenstern, the headmaster of Luciferian Academy, uses a raven to spy on the children of the titular school, and finds out that Peter, the son of Thomas and Susan Stone (whom he killed), is a student of that school.
  • In Rivers of London, the uplifted foxes all think like spies, and have been recruited by the Folly (mostly Abigail) to do surveillance in exchange for cheese puffs.
  • The book A Sentient Animal involves dolphins being used and trained for espionage
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, ravens are the typical way to send letters. More extreme examples are wargs, who are basically people that can fall asleep at will and look out the eyes of an animal. It's usually a pet they're very close to, but very talented wargs can become any animal they'd like. Its television adaptation, Game of Thrones, also shows them used for this purpose.
  • The diamond turtle in The Voyage of Alice. Subverted, as it turns out to be a remote-controlled robot.
  • Dean Koontz's 1987 novel Watchers deals with genetic engineering that uplifts a Golden Retriever named "Einstein" to near-human intelligence for the purpose of espionage.
  • In The Wheel of Time series, ravens, crows and rats can be used as spies for the Dark One, and as such have bounties in the Borderlands and are generally killed on sight. Generally speaking, they have to report to some manner of shadowspawn, but some more powerful villains can take them over directly.

    Live-Action TV 
  • An inventor attaches surveillance equipment to animals, in order to identify the spies at the school in the M.I. High episode "Spy Animals".
  • Mission: Impossible: In "Chico", the IMF must rely on a trained terrier, named Chico, to retrieve a list of undercover agents from a drug lord's underground vault.
  • In Terra Nova, a dragonfly is used like a carrier pigeon taking chips that contain information to spies in Taylor's Colony.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • A wizard's familiar or a druid or ranger's animal companion will regularly be used for this purpose. Success can vary heavily, but if the game is run by a Killer Game Master, expect that the random group of bandits will instantly go to DEFCON 1 the moment they spot an owl sitting in a tree near their camp at night.
    • Illithids use cranium rats as spies, disseminating them in humanoid settlements and counting on the fact that humans don't generally pay much attention to rats to allow them to get anywhere and listen in to secret conversations.
  • Star Wars d6: In the Cracken's Rebel Operatives sourcebook, Moff Jarnek's pet Daerlar is a Covallon. Because Covallon walk on all fours, it isn't widely known that they're a fully sentient race. Dearlar chooses to keep this fact secret from his "master" in order to spy on Jarnek's guests.

    Theater 
  • In Orpheus: A Poetic Drama, Ascalaphus was turned into a screech owl and functions as Hades' spy in the Underworld.

    Video Games 
  • Pokémon Sword and Shield: The final evolution of the Water-type starter is Inteleon, a chameleon/basilisk lizard with the looks, personality and abilities of secret agents and spies. It can camouflage, shoot high pressure water jets out of its fingertips as if it's firing a gun, and use the membrane behind its back as a makeshift hang glider. It's native to Galar, which is based on the United Kingdom, the birth place of James Bond(speaking of which, the Galar Pokédex number for its initial form Sobble is 007).
  • In Starcraft, the Zerg can insert a parasite into any unit (including neutral animals) that allows them to see that unit through the Fog of War. It's of limited use where critters are involved (since they wander around aimlessly), but it sometimes allows getting early warning of an attack.
  • Total Annihilation: Kingdoms has the Spyhawk, Parrot, and Bat as the scouts for three of the major factions. They have a large field of view and can fly quickly, but they're somehow considered highly conspicuous and therefore auto-attacked.
  • Warcraft III: The Night Elf Huntress' Sentinel ability puts an owl spirit in a tree where it will continue to provide vision of the area until the tree is cut down. The Priestess of the Moon can summon an unkillable owl to fly around and spy on and detect enemies. The Beastmaster's Hawk summon serves the same purpose, except it can be attacked, eventually becomes invisible and can attack enemies.

    Webcomics 
  • Krosp from Girl Genius is an uplifted cat who was created specifically to bend ordinary cats to his will and make them serve as spies and saboteurs. The experiment succeeded in giving Krosp human-level intelligence and making other cats desire to obey him, but the project ultimately failed because ordinary cats couldn't understand complex commands, and they have terrible attention spans anyway (so if he could get them to understand what he'd wanted they'd set off intent on doing it... and then promptly get distracted by an interesting glint of light or similar and forget about it).
  • The Order of the Stick has the familiar scout out a bandit camp, which is detected by all the bandits in the wide camp and shot by arrows — basically mocking the same type of Killer Game Master that does the same, especially commenting about how many birds fly overhead each day.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Dragons: Riders of Berk: In Race to the Edge, Hiccup and the other Dragon Riders befriend a colony of Night Terrors, a swarm of little dragons that can band together to make themselves appear much larger. In return for sharing the island and helping to protect them, the Night Terrors act as sentries.
  • Phineas and Ferb: Perry the Platypus is secretly Agent P of the Organization Without a Cool Acronym. All other agents in the OWCA are also animals (and on at least one occasion, a potted plant). Even Doctor Doofenshmirtz, Perry's human nemesis, is allowed to be an agent briefly because he's legally an ocelot.

    Real Life 
  • During the Cold War the CIA launched Project Acoustic Kitty, in which they implanted microphones and radio transmitters into cats to spy on the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, they had difficulty training the cats to go where they wanted, and the project was declared a failure.
  • It's known that The New Russia trains attack dolphins for military reconnaissance as well as naval combat. The United States had similar programs, but mainly for the detection of undersea mines.

 
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