Plants Know When They’re Being Eaten–and Fight Back

caterpillar eating leaf

“Plants can sense when they are being eaten and send out defense mechanisms to try to stop it from happening,” claims a study by the University of Missouri.

…What? Yes, you read that right. One of the main findings was that plants, who have long been known to respond to music and acoustics, also respond to relevant motion and vibrations–that is, when they’re being eaten by insects, for example.

“We found that feeding vibrations signal changes in the plant cells’ metabolism, creating more defensive chemicals that can repel attacks from caterpillars,” the study went on to explain.

The group of researchers carried out their tests on thale cress, or Arabidopsis as it’s known scientifically, which is closely related to broccoli, kale and mustard greens, among others. This plant is commonly chosen for science experiments because it was one of the first plants to have its genome sequenced, which helps researchers better understand the workings of the plant more extensively.

The plants were “tested” by being exposed to a series of predatory noises, or “munching sounds” (such as caterpillars and predators consuming the plant) and documenting the reactions. It was found that the plants who felt or heard the “munching sounds” produced more defensive chemicals, or mild toxins, through their leaves to try and fight off the threat. The plants that were not exposed to any sounds did not produce higher amounts of the chemicals.

Plants are ‘smart’ enough to fight back? Who knew!


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