Crickets can be super annoying, especially when one of them gets in your house and keeps you up all night with its incessant chirping. But all in all, I’d take a rogue cricket, or even a thousand of them, over a mysterious Russian sonic attack.
If you missed the original story, American diplomats in Cuba were subject to alleged “sonic attacks” in Nov. 2016 that left them with a variety of nervous ailments, from the minor (headaches) to the major (hearing and memory loss). Nobody knew what was happening, Russians were vaguely suspected, and then the Cubans themselves. The prevailing suspicion was that some kind of sinister weapon broadcasting dangerous sound waves was being aimed at U.S. and a few Canadian diplomats, though nobody knew exactly how this would work, not to mention why it was being done. Embassy staff was reduced, and Trump even went public blaming the hosts, expelling two Cuban diplomats in Aug. 2017. In all, 26 people claimed some symptoms. For its part, Cuba vociferously denied the attacks, accused the U.S. of lying, and launched a massive investigation. There were many skeptics, and their general take was that the affected individuals were experiencing a “mass psychogenic illness,” which essentially means the suggestion of attacks prompted psychosomatic symptoms. The phenomenon became known as “Havana Syndrome.”
Now, a new study by Alexander Stubbs at the University of California concludes that the “attacks” were actually perpetuated by…a cricket. An actual cricket. The Indies short-tailed cricket, to be precise. The determination was made on the basis of an AP recording of one such “attack.”
The New York Times has the scoop:
“There’s plenty of debate in the medical community over what, if any, physical damage there is to these individuals,” said Mr. Stubbs in a phone interview. “All I can say fairly definitively is that the A.P.-released recording is of a cricket, and we think we know what species it is.”
When Mr. Stubbs first heard the recording, he was reminded of insects he came across while doing field work in the Caribbean. When he and Dr. Montealegre-Z downloaded the sound file, they found that its acoustic patterns — such as the rate of pulses and the strongest frequencies — were very similar to the songs of certain kinds of insects.
They went on to analyze field recordings of North American insects, and eventually pinpointed the Indies short-tailed cricket. He then played the recording inside a home, and the result was a close duplicate (“it matches, in nuanced detail”) of the AP recording.
In addition, that particular insect has long been known for the “tremendous volume” of its mating song. Stubbs himself said that they can be heard “inside a diesel truck going forty miles an hour on the highway.”
Of course, the fact that this one recording seems to have been of a cricket can’t rule out the possibility that there were other sonic attacks, or other illnesses suffered by the diplomats. But that’s semantics—what we can say for sure is that the only hard evidence of any kind of nefarious international plot to attack our diplomats with a strange new weapon turned out to be, in the end, a very annoying insect.