Cuban Crickets Blamed For Brain-Melting Sonic Embassy Attacks

Forget Vladimir Putin and hi-tech microwave weapons, the mystery behind US Embassy workers in Havana suffering from "sonic attacks" has apparently been solved.

The culprit of the mystery ailments which include damaged hearing, vision, cognition, balance and sleep? According to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, the mysterious noise heard by dozens of embassy workers may have been crickets. 

[A] new study indicates that the culprit behind this debacle is in fact… a cricket. According to Alexander Stubbs, a scientist in the Department of Integrative Biology and Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley, the mysterious noise is actually the echoing call of the Indies short-tailed cricket (Anurogryllus celerinictus). Stubbs will present his findings this week at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in Tampa, Florida, based on a paper that was just released through the bioArxive online database. -NewsWise

Stubbs decided to investigate crickets after the Associated Press (AP) released a recording of the ear-shattering noise in October, 2017, which reminded him of insect calls he had heard while doing field work in the Caribbean. 

US Embassy in Havana

What about the US diplomats who have fallen ill in China with similar symptoms?

On May 23, the US State Department announced that one embassy worker in Guangzhou experienced "subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure" before being diagnosed with symptoms similar to those found in the diplomatic personnel that were in Cuba, including mild traumatic brain injury.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that at least two more Americans in Guangzhou have experienced similar phenomena and also fallen ill. One of those embassy workers told the Times that he and his wife had heard mysterious sounds and experienced strange headaches and sleeplessness while in their apartment. -Business Insider

While the AP recording didn't match any of the hundreds of insect recordings Stubbs had available, he then realized that the US diplomats made the recordings indoors - and modified the insect calls on indoor speakers. 

Stubbs played the insect calls on indoor speakers, recorded the echoing calls, and performed the analyses again. The new results were noticeably different. Stubbs found that the echoing call of the Indies short-tailed cricket (A. celerinictus) was a near perfect match to the AP recording in pulse structure. Further tests in collaboration with bioacoustics expert Fernando Montealegre-Z at the University of Lincoln (UK) showed that the characteristic frequency decay within each pulse is consistent with the biomechanics of this cricket’s sound production. -NewsWise

Cuban officials submitted a report to the US government in 2018 postulating that a Jamaican field cricket (Gryllus assimilis) was the culprit , however it was disregarded - likely because said cricket's chirp does not match the continuous and grating sound heard in the diplomats' recording. The cricket suspected by Stubbs, on the other hand, has a continuous call that is absolutely horrible to listen to for any length of time. 

Why was the Indies short-tailed cricket not implicated before? A. celerinictus has only been documented in Jamaica and Grand Cayman and is not known to occur in Cuba. But it’s possible that this cricket was actually in Cuba all along. A. celerinictus used to go by a different name: A. muticus, another species that is nearly identical, and that does occur in Cuba. An entomologist at the University of Florida, Thomas J. Walker, distinguished the two species from each other in 1973 based on the frequencies of their wing strokes. But the distinct geographic ranges of the two crickets went unnoticed for over 40 years – until Stubbs used Walker’s field recordings of the crickets, which Walker had made available on his website, to investigate the strange recording from Havana. It is possible that the Cubans actually found the organism responsible but simply mis-identified it. -NewsWise

We guess the US State Department can call off the dogs over Russia or China - though this doesn't rule out Russian crickets trained to imitate their Caribbean counterparts.