COLUMBIA, MO (CBS) – Plants have feelings, too.
According to a new study from the University of Missouri, plants can tell when they’re being eaten.
Researchers say they put caterpillars on a small flowering plant called Arabidopsis, a relative of mustard, and used a device to measure the response of the plant to the caterpillars chewing.
The scientists then played back recordings of the caterpillars chewing to one group of plants, while the control group received only silence.
Later, when the caterpillars again fed on both sets of plants, the plants that had heard the recording earlier produced more mustard oil, a chemical described as “unappealing” to caterpillars.
“What is remarkable is that the plants exposed to different vibrations, including those made by a gentle wind or different insect sounds that share some acoustic features with caterpillar feeding vibrations did not increase their chemical defenses,” Rex Cocroft, professor in the Division of Biological Sciences at MU, says. “This indicates that the plants are able to distinguish feeding vibrations from other common sources of environmental vibration.”
Scientists say feeding vibrations are probably the easiest way for plants to sense an attack and begin to defend themselves. They also say caterpillars usually respond to those defenses by crawling away, so using similar vibrations could be useful for agriculture.
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