It sounds like the oddest conspiracy theory ever, but amazingly, the Pentagon is behind a plan to turn crickets, cicadas and katydids into cyborg chemical detectors to help protect soldiers from chemical attacks. Your tax dollars at mad science work?

New Scientist reports that Pentagon-backed scientists are planning to implant electronics in insects that will allow them to announce the presence of certain chemicals in the air by modulating the rhythm of the insects' wingbeats:

The implants will cause the insects in these OrthopterNets to modulate their calls in the presence of certain chemicals... As well as a biochemical sensor and a device for modulating the wing muscles, the electronics package would contain an acoustic sensor designed to respond to the altered calls of other insects. This should ensure the "alarm" signal is passed quickly across the network and is ultimately picked up by ground-based transceivers.

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Those involved in the project point out that the system could be adapted for non-combat situations, such as monitoring pollution or gas leaks. The only problem, it seems, is miniaturizing the technology enough for the insects, according to Ben Epstein of OpCoast, the company behind the project:

We could do this by adjusting the muscle tension or some other parameter that affects the sound-producing movements. The insect itself might not even notice the modulation... Given a big enough insect it wouldn't be a problem.

Maybe we're going around this the wrong way; maybe, instead of miniaturizing the technology, we should work on breeding larger insects. No-one would have a problem with giant crickets jumping out during warfare, right?

Cyborg crickets could chirp at the smell of survivors [New Scientist]

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